Voters will decide several key Oklahoma judicial races on Nov. 8, including whether to retain four of nine justices on the Oklahoma Supreme Court and five of 12 judges on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, in addition to voting in county-level races for district judge.
Both district judges and associate district judges are elected to four-year terms. Judges are appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court Court of Civil Appeals by the governor from among nominees submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission. They serve six-year terms and are up for retention votes every six years.
Voters have never before rejected the retention of an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice before.
In Oklahoma County, only two district court judicial seats will have an election on Nov. 8 after three incumbent district judges — Amy Palumbo, Natalie Mai and Nikki Kirkpatrick — won their seats outright in the June 28 primary. There is also a district judge race on the ballot for District 14, which covers Tulsa County.
This article offers a look at the Oklahoma judicial races that involve appellate judges up for retention, as well as the district court races in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties. The following information has been gathered from publicly available resources, including a website created by the Oklahoma Bar Association. Campaign websites or Facebook accounts are linked on candidates’ names, and candidates in competitive races are presented in alphabetical order.
A full slate of judicial positions up for election this year can be found by visiting the Oklahoma State Election Board.
Oklahoma’s general election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 8, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting runs from Wednesday, Nov. 2, through Saturday, Nov. 5.
Oklahoma Supreme Court
Dustin Rowe (District 2)
Background: Dustin Rowe was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2019.
Dustin Rowe served as a judge on the Chickasaw Nation District Court from 2005 to 2019, when he was appointed to the state Supreme Court. He received his juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma in 2001.
Rowe was elected to the Tishomingo City Council at age 18 before serving two terms as mayor. He unsuccessfully ran to represent Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District in 2012.
Notable decisions: In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, Rowe, along with seven other justices, rejected a request for a temporary injunction to block implementation of Oklahoma’s abortion laws.
In 2021, Rowe dissented when the court voted 6-3 to stop the implementation of privately managed care for the state’s Medicaid program — one of Stitt’s legislative priorities that year.
James Winchester (District 5)
Background: James Winchester was appointed by Gov. Frank Keating in 2000.
After attending Oklahoma City University School of Law, Winchester began practicing law in western Oklahoma. Starting in 1983, he served for several years as a judge in Caddo County. Winchester also served as a U.S. administrative law judge in OKC and New Orleans.
Notable decisions: Winchester wrote the majority opinion in Treat v. Stitt, a 7-1 ruling that said the governor did not have the authority to negotiate gaming compacts with tribal nations that included games unauthorized by the Oklahoma Legislature.
Winchester, along with Rowe, dissented in the 6-3 decision in 2021 that stopped the implementation of a privately managed care program for Medicaid.
Winchester signed an order rejecting a temporary injunction to block state abortion laws following the overturn of Roe v. Wade this year.
Dana Kuehn (District 6)
Background: Dana Kuehn was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2021.
Kuehn, the most recent appointee to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, previously served a two-year term as presiding judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, to which she was appointed in 2017 by Gov. Mary Fallin. She is the first woman in Oklahoma history to have served on both courts.
After graduating from the University of Tulsa College of Law in 1996, she worked as a felony prosecutor for 10 years with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s office. She was elected an associate district judge of Tulsa County in 2006.
Notable decisions: Kuehn concurred in the majority opinion that struck down a Cleveland County judge’s verdict directing Johnson & Johnson and other companies to pay $465 million to combat opioid addiction.
Kuehn also concurred in the opinion that assured State Question 820, regarding recreational marijuana legalization, would not appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Douglas Combs (District 8)
Background: Douglas Combs was appointed by Gov. Brad Henry in 2011.
After serving as an assistant attorney general in 1976 under Oklahoma Attorney General Larry Derryberry, Combs moved to private practice in 1977. In 1982, he opened his own firm in Shawnee. He began his judicial career in 1995, serving as a special judge for Pottawatomie and Lincoln counties. In 2002, he began serving as a district judge for those counties.
Notable decisions: Combs wrote the decision that stopped the implementation of a privately managed care program for SoonerCare.
In a concurring opinion on a 8-0 decision to uphold the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority’s plan to issue $800 million in bonds to pay for energy costs caused by the February 2021 winter storm, Combs was critical of Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor, writing that “the utility consumers that the attorney general should be representing have effectively been left without representation.”
Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals
Stacie Hixon (District 1, Office 1)
Background: Stacie Hixon was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2020.
Prior to her appointment to the Court of Civil Appeals, Stacie Hixon worked in private practice, where she focused on insurance defense, insurance coverage, bad faith litigation, major casualty, products liability, employment law and general civil litigation in state and federal court.
Hixon earned her law degree from the University of Tulsa in 2002.
Gregory Blackwell (District 3, Office 1)
Background: Gregory Blackwell was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2021.
Blackwell, the most recent appointee to the Court of Civil Appeals, previously served on the staff of Judge Bay Mitchell, who is also on the Court of Civil Appeals.
After receiving his juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 2004, Blackwell worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he defended federal agencies in environmental litigation. In 2008, Blackwell returned to Oklahoma and worked as the head of appellate litigation at the law firm of Ball Morse Lowe, PLLC, in Oklahoma City.
John Fischer (District 3, Office 2)
Background: Fischer was appointed by Gov. Brad Henry in 2006.
Fischer earned his juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma in 1974, and he served as an assistant attorney general for the state. He worked in private practice from 1980 until 2006.
Barbara Swinton (District 4, Office 1)
Background: Swinton was appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin in 2016.
Swinton served as a district judge in Oklahoma County from November 2002 until her appointment to the Court of Civil Appeals in 2016. Before becoming a judge, Swinton practiced general civil and family law. She has served as the vice chief and chief judge of the Court of Civil Appeals. She graduated from Georgia State University in 1991.
Swinton served for nearly 20 years as a board member at the Justice Alma Wilson Seeworth Academy, which closed in 2019 after the State Department of Education found the school to be “seriously deficient in the areas of transparency, accountability and policies and procedures as they related to the school’s federal funds.”
Janet Grigg, the former superintendent of the charter school, was charged in September with three counts of felony embezzlement. Oklahoma County David Prater has said the actions of Seeworth Academy board member remain under review.
Thomas Prince (District 5, Office 1)
Background: Prince was appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2020.
Prior to being appointed to the Court of Civil Appeals, Prince served as a district judge in Oklahoma County from 2012 to 2020. He served as the presiding judge of the state multi-county Grand Jury from 2016 to 2018. Prior to becoming a judge, Prince worked in a private law practice for 29 years.
Oklahoma County District Judge, Office 5: Savage v. Siderias
(Both candidates answered questions from The Oklahoman regarding their campaigns.)
Kathryn Savage serves as a special judge in Oklahoma County, and she was first sworn into that position in November 2017.
She previously served as an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma, Pottawatomie and Muskogee counties, and as a prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office in the multi-county grand jury unit.
James Siderias serves as a special judge in Oklahoma County and began his tenure in April 2020.
Prior to that, he worked as a prosecutor for more than a decade, handling child abuse cases, sex crimes and violent offenses, according to his campaign website. In private practice, Siderias has focused on criminal defense and family law.
Oklahoma County associate district judge: Kirby vs. Singleton
(Both candidates answered questions from The Oklahoman regarding their campaigns.)
Richard Kirby (incumbent)
Richard Kirby was first elected as an associate district judge in Oklahoma County in 2007, and he initially served as the supervising judge for juvenile courts.
Since 2014, Kirby has presided over cases involving probate, guardianships and adoptions in Oklahoma County. Previously, Kirby also served as an attorney for former Gov. Frank Keating. He is looking to win his fourth reelection bid this year, and he has emphasized his experience in social media advertisements. One post on Kirby’s Facebook page features the endorsement of former District Attorney’s Council director Trent Baggett.
After graduating with her juris doctorate from the University of Oregon in 2011, Singleton began working as an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County, primarily prosecuting homicides and other violent crimes.
In 2016, she opened her own private criminal defense practice, where she has represented defendants charged with DUIs, drug offenses, gun charges, and domestic violence amongst other offenses.
On her campaign Facebook page, Singleton has published a series of endorsement videos from local attorneys.
Tulsa, Pawnee County district judge, Office 12: Gray vs. Wilson
Kevin Gray currently leads the homicide unit in the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, where he has worked as an assistant district attorney for 11 years.
Gray has worked multiple high-profile cases, including the investigation of Betty Shelby, a police officer who was acquitted in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher. Gray has also been involved in the case of Shannon Kepler, a police officer who was convicted of killing his daughter’s boyfriend. Most recently, he prosecuted David Ware, who was found guilty earlier this year of killing a Tulsa police officer.
Tanya Wilson oversees preliminary hearings as a special judge in Tulsa County. She was appointed to the position two years ago.
Previously, Wilson worked for 11 years in the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office, where she served as the lead prosecutor in the juvenile division. For eight months prior to her appointment as a special judge, Wilson worked in private practice specializing criminal and family law. The Tulsa World has endorsed Wilson over Gray for the position.