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April 14, 2014

Judge Russell reverses course, stays put

DUNCAN — If the political instincts of G. Brent Russell are correct, attorney Ken Graham will be a shoe-in to be the next District Judge in Stephens County.

 Russell moved quickly to announce he planned to move up the judicial ladder after District Judge Joe Enos said he will retire on Jan. 11, but he changed his mind almost as quickly when he began figuring the odds of victory after Graham entered the race.

Russell, associate judge for Stephens County since 2006, had hired a political consultant and was given no indication he would draw a strong opponent in a race for District Judge, he said Friday after he withdrew his candidacy.

Russell paid his $200 filing fee and was the 107th candidate to file for public office in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the first day candidates could file,  but  Graham was the 55th Oklahoma candidate to file for office that day, according to the state election board.

  After thinking it over the next two days, Russell went back to Oklahoma City on Friday, withdrew from the race and filed his intentions to retain the associate judge’s position he’s held since 2006.

  Simply put, Russell said he couldn’t afford to lose and be out of a job.

  As Russell explains it, Graham is a familiar face in Comanche County, the most populous of the four counties that vote to elect judges in Judicial District 5. Graham was an assistant prosecutor in Lawton and was in private practice there for years, representing clients such as Farm Bureau Insurance, Caddo-Comanche Rural Water District, Great Plains Impovement Foundation and numerous school districts.

  With Lawton State Rep. T.W. Shannon running for the unexpired term left by retiring U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, Russell said a large voter turnout in Lawton and Comanche County is likely.

  Graham said Russell called him late Friday afternoon to tell him of his change in heart.

With a contested, four-county campaign expected to cost  $200,000,  Russell, who still has one child in college, said he also had to weigh the financial risk of staying in the race.

   He said his supporters in Stephens and Comanche counties told him  they could raise the campaign funds needed and urged him to remain in the race, but it didn’t convince him.

   “Ken Graham has the luxury of being financially independent,” Russell said. “The bottom line is if I lose, I’m out of a job. He doesn’t have that concern.”

     Graham said he understood Russell’s rationale for withdrawing, saying, “He and I still have a good relationship.”

   Graham, who has lived in Duncan since 2008,  noted there is not a great deal of difference in the state salaries paid to the District Judge and Associate District Judge.

     District Judges in Oklahoma earn $124,000 and Associate District Judges make $115,000, according to the National Center for State Courts.

    Among the first to learn of Russell’s withdrawal from the race was Duncan attorney Joshua A. Creekmore, who was in Oklahoma City on Friday to file his intentions to run for District Judge at the same time Russell was filing his withdrawal notice.

   The two spoke at the election board.

    “I was surprised,” said Creekmore, 37, who grew up near Velma and practices civil law with the Duncan firm of Leach & Sullivan.

   Neither Russell’s withdrawal or his political analysis that Graham will be difficult to defeat will affect his campaign, said Creekmore.

     “It doesn’t change my campaign any,” he said. “I look forward to getting out there.”

    Oklahoma judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections in which candidates do not run on the basis of party affiliation.

   Russell said Marlow attorney Clinton D. Russell, who filed for the judicial post he thought he would vacate, has assured him he will withdraw his candidacy now that Russell had decided to remain in his current job.

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Duncan Vice Mayor Mike Nelson talks during Wednesday's Duncan Rotary meeting.

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