Saturday, October 22, 2022

Here's what you need to know about the judges on the ballot

It's voting time, and you're here because you don't want to be surprised when you see eight judges and justices on your ballot that you know nothing about. Thanks for dropping by!

If you've ever done the frustrating task of searching for information on these courts and judges, I feel your pain. As I mentioned in previous election years, finding information on the justices and judges on the retention ballot can be a difficult task, and basic information such as their ages can be anywhere from difficult to find to completely unknown to even Google.

In this post, I'll cover the following justices and judges, which are on every Oklahoma voter's ballot:
  • Supreme Court - Dustin P. Rowe
  • Supreme Court - James R. Winchester
  • Supreme Court - Dana Kuehn
  • Supreme Court - Douglas L. Combs
  • Court of Civil Appeals - Stacie L. Hixon
  • Court of Civil Appeals - Gregory C. Blackwell
  • Court of Civil Appeals - John F. Fischer
  • Court of Civil Appeals - Barbara G. Swinton
  • Court of Civil Appeals -  Thomas E. Prince

A quick explainer before we move to the judges themselves. From
Oklahoma Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Court of Civil Appeal are called "appellate courts," because they hear cases that have been appealed, and judges on these courts are thus called "appellate judges."

Appellate judges are first appointed by the governor from a list of three names of qualified individuals prepared by the Judicial Nominating Commission. At the end of their terms, appellate judges wishing to remain in office must declare their candidacy for retention. When a judge seeks retention, the judge's name is placed on the ballot at the next general election. Then Oklahoma voters can select "yes" to vote to retain that judge, or "no" to vote to not retain that judge. The Oklahoma Constitution provides that if an appellate judge does not receive a majority of "yes" votes, the office becomes vacant and the governor appoints a replacement.

If the judge does not file for retention or is not retained by voters, the governor appoints a new judge. 
Since Oklahoma went to this system in the 1960s, no judge has ever lost a retention vote. Each of these courts have six-year terms, so keep that in mind as you consider each of these judges and justices.

What's very important to remember is that the Governor is the individual who places judges and justices on these courts, so ultimately, their respective political beliefs and party platforms influence and inform whom they select to serve on the bench. If by some miracle one of the four justices and five judges on the ballot this year becomes the first in history to lose a retention vote, the winner of the Governor's race (incumbent Republican Kevin Stitt, or Democrat Joy Hofmeister) would get to appoint a replacement. 

By the same token, the party affiliation of the Governor who appointed each of these judges is a contributing factor for you to consider. Do you agree more with the Republican Party platform, or with the Democratic Party platform? When appointing justices and judges, Democratic and Republican governors each have tendencies that generally mirror their party platforms. The judicial beliefs of their appointed judges usually follow (not always, but generally). Your position on the differing platforms is an important point to remember.

After giving what useful information I was able to find online, I will conclude each judge by listing how I will be voting, along with suggestions (when published) from conservative Tulsa blogger Michael Bates and conservative activists Steve Fair and Georgia Williams from the Lawton/Duncan area, both being sources that I trust. Additional resources I will link to and reference are iVoterGuide (really good), and

Many thanks also to the Oklahoma Bar Association for their helpful website, which gives a lot of nonpartisan information about Oklahoma's judicial system and officers.

Supreme Court (6 year term)

Justice Dustin P. Rowe (47) was appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt in 2019. 

A lifelong resident of Tishomingo, Rowe was elected to the city council while an 18-year old high school senior, serving two terms as mayor. Justice Rowe earned his bachelor’s degree with honors from East Central University and his J.D. from the OU College of Law. He practiced law in Tishomingo from 2001 to 2019. He also served as special judge of the Chickasaw Nation District Court from 2005 to 2011 and as district judge of the Chickasaw Nation District Court from 2011 to 2019.

Rowe was one of six Republican candidates for the 2nd Congressional District in 2012, coming in fourth place in the GOP primary (Markwayne Mullin was the eventual runoff and general election winner). He and his wife are active members of Tishomingo First Assembly of God Church. The Oklahoman noted in 2019 that he "has served as chairman of the Johnston County Republican Party [... and] is a member of the conservative Federalist Society and the Christian Legal Society."

Rowe was an excellent addition to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and I will be voting 'YES' (do retain). Michael BatesSteve Fair and Georgia Williams all recommend a yes vote.

Justice James R. Winchester (70) was appointed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by Republican Governor Frank Keating in 2000. 

A native of Clinton, he received his bachelor's degree from OU and his J.D. from the OCU School of Law. After graduating, he practiced law in western Oklahoma before being named associate district judge for Caddo County in January 1983, and district judge in December 1983. His wife, Susan, served in the State House from 1998 to 2008, rising to the second-highest position (Speaker Pro Tempore) when the Republicans took over in 2004. He resides in Chickasha, where they are members of the First Presbyterian Church.  

I will be voting 'No' (do not retain) on Justice Winchester as I think Gov. Stitt (assuming/hoping he gets re-elected) could appoint a better justice. Bates also recommends a do-not-retain vote. Fair and Williams disagree, advocating a yes now also advocate a no vote.

UPDATE: Since first posting this, I have heard from some readers and conservative activists who think Winchester is worth keeping on. I seem to remember him being on the wrong side of some abortion/pro-life cases, but perhaps I'm wrong there. 

UPDATE 2: Winchester did rule against two separate pro-life/abortion-abolition initiative petitions - a Personhood amendment in 2012, and an abortion abolition amendment in 2016 - preventing these from ever reaching a vote of the people. Michael Bates posted additional issues that Winchester has been questionable on.

Justice Dana Kuehn (51) was appointed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt in 2021. Prior to that, she had been appointed to the Court of Criminal Appeals by Republican Governor Mary Fallin in 2017. 

A native of Tulsa, she attended OSU, receiving a bachelor’s degree in political science. She received her J.D. from the TU College of Law in 1996. After graduating from law school, Justice Kuehn was a felony prosecutor for 10 years with the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office. She headed the Crimes Against Children Unit and served as chief of the Juvenile Division. She was an associate with the law firm of Steidley & Neal from 1999 until 2000 (Gil Steidley attended my church until he and his wife died last year in a tragic car accident). In 2006, Justice Kuehn was elected associate district judge of Tulsa County. She served as chief of the Civil Division at Tulsa County from 2010 through 2012. She teaches the Evidence Workshop at the TU College of Law. She and her husband are members of First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa.

I will be voting 'Yes' (do retain) on Justice Kuehn. BatesFair and Williams concur on a 'yes' vote.

Justice Douglas L. Combs (71) was appointed by Democratic Governor Brad Henry in 2010. 

He served as a district judge from 2003 through 2010, and served as special district judge from 1995 to 2003. Prior to taking the bench Combs was in private practice and served as an assistant state attorney general and as a deputy clerk for the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Justice Combs graduated from Shawnee High School in 1969. He attended St. Gregory’s Junior College, now St. Gregory’s University and the University of Oklahoma to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1973. He earned his juris doctorate from the Oklahoma City University School of  Law in 1976. He and his wife are members of St. Paul's Methodist Church of Shawnee.

I will be voting 'No' (do not retain) on Justice Combs. BatesFair and Williams agree on voting against Combs.

Court of Civil Appeals (6 year term)

Judge Stacie L. Hixon (44) was appointed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt in 2020. Prior to her appointment, she was a partner at Steidley & Neal PLLC, which has offices in Tulsa and McAlester; her boss, Gil Steidley, attended my church until he and his wife died last year in a tragic car accident. It appears that she and her husband may be members of Faith Lutheran Church in Owasso.

I will be voting 'Yes' (do retain) on Judge Hixon. BatesFair and Williams concur.

Judge Gregory C. Blackwell (46) was appointed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt in 2021.

He graduated from OU in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in letters and a minor in linguistics, and received his J.D. from the OU College of Law, graduating with honors in 2004. Blackwell worked in the United States Department of Justice as a trial attorney in Washington, D.C., where he defended the United States and numerous federal agencies in complex environmental litigation, before returning to the private sector back in Oklahoma in 2008.

I will be voting 'Yes' (do retain) on Judge Blackwell. BatesFair and Williams call for a 'yes' vote.

  • rates Judge Blackwell 3 out of 5 stars, an 'acceptable' rating, and recommends voting in favor of retention. 

Judge John F. Fischer (74) was appointed by Democratic Governor Brad Henry in 2006.

He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from OU and was awarded his J.D. by the OU College of Law in 1975. After graduation, he served as an assistant attorney general for the state of Oklahoma. He was in private law practice from 1980 until 2006.

I will be voting 'No' (do not retain) on Judge Fischer. BatesFair and Williams likewise call for a 'no' vote.

Judge Barbara G. Swinton (62) was appointed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin in 2016.

She graduated with a B.S. with honors in political science from OSU in 1982 and from Georgia State University School of Law in 1991. She was elected as district judge for Oklahoma County in November 2002 and served in that capacity until 2016. Prior to her election as district judge, Swinton served as a special judge from 1996 to 2002. She also serves as an adjunct professor at OCU School of Law in the areas of pretrial litigation and trial practice. She has served on the Board of Elders for Crown Heights Christian Church.

I will be voting 'No' (do not retain) on Judge Swinton. Michael Bates says vote no (update: read here for details). Fair and Williams say vote yes.

UPDATE: Since first posting this, I have heard from some readers and conservative activists who think Swinton is not conservative and should not be retained. I have since changed my vote recommendation from yes to no.

Judge Thomas E. Prince (62) was appointed by Republican Governor Kevin Stitt in 2020.

Born in Idabel, Judge Prince earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1979 from Southern Arkansas University and, in 1982, a J.D. from the OCU School of Law. Judge Prince was appointed by three prior governors to the Oklahoma State Election Board, where he served as a member from 1999 to 2012. He also was a member of the Standards Board of the United States Election Assistance Commission from 2009 to 2012. Judge Prince had served as a District Judge for Oklahoma County from 2012 to 2020. During his tenure as a district judge, the Oklahoma Supreme Court appointed him as the presiding judge of the State Multi-County Grand Jury, serving in that position from 2016 to 2018. Prior to becoming a judge, he was in private law practice for 29 years.

I will be voting 'Yes' (do retain) on Judge Prince. BatesFair and Williams also recommend a 'yes' vote.

Again, as a quick recap, here are the judges and justices, along with my personal voting recommendation:

  • Supreme Court - Dustin P. Rowe (Yes)
  • Supreme Court - James R. Winchester (No)
  • Supreme Court - Dana Kuehn (Yes)
  • Supreme Court - Douglas L. Combs (No)
  • Court of Civil Appeals - Stacie L. Hixon (Yes)
  • Court of Civil Appeals - Gregory C. Blackwell (Yes)
  • Court of Civil Appeals - John F. Fischer (No)
  • Court of Civil Appeals - Barbara G. Swinton (No)
  • Court of Civil Appeals -  Thomas E. Prince (Yes)

I hope this information has been helpful to you. Pass it along to any voter you know that is in need of this material before they cast their ballot! 

You can help support the work here at by indulging this quick pitch. While you're here, let me quickly introduce you to Upside, an easy way to save on fuel. 

Upside is a mobile app that gets you cash back on fuel purchases, which you can redeem for gift cards, or deposit to your PayPal or bank account. Gift cards include retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Apple, Google Play, Lowe's, Target, Starbucks, Chili's, and more. Participating gas stations are listed with a cents-off amount. 

Below is a screenshot on some areas here in Oklahoma, showing retailers that participate with Upside (prices were valid on the morning of October 21st). And yes, some of those stations are offering in excess of 12¢ back per gallon (I've gotten as much as 25¢/gal before):

(Click image to view larger)

In my experience, all Casey's and E-Z Mart stations in Oklahoma participate, along with quite a few Valero, Shell, and Sinclair stations. On road trips through states like Kansas and Tennessee, BP and Shell seem to be pretty common. In the past year or two, restaurants have been added, though these are more sporadic and urban focused. There are a total of 593 locations in Oklahoma that you can use Upside at, and over 50,000 nationwide.

I've used Upside for three years, and saved over $235 on fuel thus far. Just the other day, I checked in at a participating gas station to save 12¢ per gallon. That definitely adds up over time. A few months ago when prices were higher, it was not uncommon to be able to get over 20¢ off per gallon each time I filled up. Use my promo code by signing up at this link. Your first use will get an additional 15¢ off per gallon! 

You can view other money-saving apps I use, along with promo codes to get you jumpstarted, at this page

Thanks for humoring me and reading to the very end! I hope all of the information in this post is helpful to you. 


  1. Just in case you didn't know...Barbara Swinton was on the Board of Seeworth Academy when our State Auditor and Inspector found that the Superintendent had embezzled state tax dollars. I know that does not speak to her ability to adjudicate issues from the bench, however, that concerns me enough that I will vote NO on Barbara Swinton...


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