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.

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