An Oklahoma workers’ compensation court judge has vacated an order he signed in favor of an attorney he plans to work for after leaving the bench.
Judge Kent Eldridge told The Oklahoman in a copyright story that he determined the order violated a state Ethics Commission rule and should be vacated. The judge also said he did nothing wrong.
Eldridge said he had a trial in the contested case the morning of May 2 and then met with the attorney, John Colbert, at a restaurant that afternoon.
“We sat down and we negotiated the employment,” he said.
The next day, Eldridge signed the order authorizing medical treatment for Colbert’s client, records show.
The judge vacated the order May 7 after comp court administrator Michael Clingman showed him an Ethics Commission rule that prohibits a state officer from taking any official action affecting someone if the officer is negotiating with that person for employment.
The rule requires the officer to promptly disqualify himself from matters if he is in negotiations for a job.
“These guys have oaths of office. That’s their boss, not me,” Clingman said
Eldridge would not directly answer questions about whether he and Colbert ever discussed a job before May 2.
“It was generally known I was available for employment,” Eldridge said. “I made several lawyers out here know that I was interested in remaining in the system as a lawyer and utilizing my trial skills.”
Colbert did not answer a reporter’s questions at the courthouse and did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Eldridge, a workers’ compensation court judge for nearly six years, was one of four judges on the court who were not reappointed by Gov. Mary Fallin.
He said he will go to work with Colbert on June 1 and has now stopped hearing any cases, which is normal practice for judges in their final weeks.