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The Oklahoman

Referee to hear cockfight dispute
By John Greiner

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has appointed a referee to hear an application calling on Supreme Court justices to disqualify themselves from hearing a cockfighting case.

The court named Supreme Court referee Gregory W. Albert to hear the application and report back to the court.

Albert was the referee assigned by the Supreme Court in 1999 to hear cockfighters' challenges to an initiative petition to ban cockfighting in Oklahoma.

Albert ruled that the petition lacked sufficient valid signatures to be placed on a statewide election ballot.

The Supreme Court later validated the petition, paving the way for November's election in which voters approved State Question 687 to ban cockfighting in Oklahoma.

After SQ 687 was approved by voters, cockfighters filed lawsuits in 27 counties, seeking to block the law from taking effect.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson then asked the Supreme Court to take over the cases and rule that the anti- cockfighting law is constitutional.

On Jan. 24, Tulsa attorney Larry Oliver, who represents the cockfighters, filed a motion asking the Supreme Court justices to disqualify themselves from hearing the case.

His motion said the justices were apparently influenced by aggressive anti-cockfighting editorials or their own prejudices in their unanimous rulings against cockfighters in the earlier case.

Besides being under attack in court, SQ 687 likely will be challenged in the state Legislature.

SQ 687 creates a new law that can be amended by the Legislature.

Sen. Frank Shurden, D- Henryetta, said he plans to push legislation to make cockfighting legal in counties that voted down the proposal to outlaw the sport.

Apparently responding to Shurden, the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting this week released a poll saying a large number of state House and Senate districts supported the ban on cockfighting.

Cynthia Armstrong, spokeswoman for the group, said research of state Election Board data showed 68 percent of state Senate districts, 33 of 48, and 63 percent of state House districts, 64 of 101, voted for the statewide ban.