Former state Supreme Court Justice Ralph Hodges dies
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s youngest-ever state Supreme Court justice, who was appointed after a scandal rocked the state’s highest court nearly five decades ago, has died.
Retired Justice Ralph Hodges, who had served on the high court for nearly 40 years, died Wednesday. He was 82.
Funeral services are set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at Putnam City Baptist Church under the direction of Mercer-Adams Funeral Home in Bethany.
Hodges was chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court from 1977 to 1978 and from 1993 to 1994. He was appointed to the high court in April 1965 by then-Gov. Henry Bellmon and served until his retirement in 2004.
Then 34, Hodges in 1965 was and remains the youngest person since statehood appointed to the court. He said then it was “kind of a miracle” that he was named to the court.
“I was a Democrat, and I didn’t think I had much of a chance with a Republican governor, but he appointed me,” he said.
In 1964, retired Supreme Court Justice Nelson Smith Corn confessed to a 20-year agreement with one lawyer to exchange favorable court rulings for money. He implicated two others — Justices Earl Welch and N.B. Johnson.
In 1965, Johnson was impeached by the Legislature, and Welch resigned after impeachment proceedings began against him. Bellmon asked Justice Harry Rouse to retire after allegations surfaced that Rouse had evaded federal income taxes.
Corn, Welch and Johnson were convicted of criminal charges. Hodges replaced Welch.
The scandal led to changes in how judges were selected.
Oklahoma voters revamped the state’s court system in 1967. The changes provided for trial judges to be elected in nonpartisan elections and for appellate court judges to be appointed from a list submitted to the governor by a Judicial Nominating Commission. Appointed judges go on a retention ballot at the end of their terms.
Hodges, a native of Durant, graduated in 1952 from Oklahoma Baptist University. He received his law degree in 1954 from the University of Oklahoma. After serving as the Bryan County district attorney for two years, Hodges was elected district judge in 1958 and reelected in 1962.
He was chosen as the nation’s outstanding state appellate judge by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America for 1976 and 1977.
In 1982, he was the recipient of the first Media and Society Award given by the University of Oklahoma’s journalism school for his efforts to allow cameras and microphones into Oklahoma courtrooms.
STORIED CAREER Retired Justice Ralph Hodges: Gov. Henry Bellmon appointed Hodges in 1965 in the wake of a scandal involving four high court justices. Hodges, the youngest-ever jurist to be appointed to the court, served twice as chief justice.