OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Brad Henry on Friday appointed Oklahoma County District Judge Noma Gurich to a vacant seat on the state Supreme Court, making her the third woman ever named to the state's highest court.
Gurich also is Henry's sixth Supreme Court appointment, the most of any governor in state history.
Henry chose Gurich from among three candidates who were nominated to fill the seat on the nine-member court by the Judicial Nominating Commission. The others were outgoing Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for governor in November, and Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals Judge John Fischer.
Reached minutes after Henry made the announcement, Gurich thanked the outgoing governor and said she looks forward to her new duties. The term-limited Henry is completing his second four-year term and will step down Monday, when Gov.-elect Mary Fallin will be sworn in.
"I think he had a very difficult decision to make," Gurich told The Associated Press. "I am extremely pleased."
Gurich, 58, has served as a district judge in Oklahoma County since 1998. She previously served as a judge on the state's Workers Compensation Court for 10 years and has worked in private practice.
"I consider being a judge sort of a mission," she said.
Henry described the decision as "extremely difficult" because each of the candidates was well respected and qualified.
"I could not go wrong selecting any one of the nominees, but I could only choose one, and in the final analysis, I felt Noma Gurich had the best qualifications and experience to serve on the state's highest court," Henry said.
Gurich fills a vacancy created by the Oct. 11 death of Justice Marian Opala, who was 89.
Gurich is only the third woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court since Oklahoma became a state in 1907. The other female justices are Justice Yvonne Kauger of Colony and the late Justice Alma Wilson of Pauls Valley.
Wilson was the first woman Supreme Court justice who later became the state's first female chief justice. She died in 1999 at the age of 82.
Henry's has named twice as many justices as the previous record holder, former Gov. George Nigh, who named three during his two terms in office. They included Wilson and Kauger.
Henry's previous appointments include Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor and Justices James E. Edmondson, Tom Colbert, John F. Reif. and Douglas L. Combs, a former Pottawatomie County district judge who was formally sworn into his seat Friday.
Combs succeeded Justice Rudolph Hargrave, who was Oklahoma's most senior judge before he retired Jan. 1 after more than 30 years on the bench.
Henry appointed Gurich to the Supreme Court in spite of a pending lawsuit that asked the high court to block the appointment until the Judicial Nominating Commission is restructured according to a statewide ballot measure approved by voters in November. The Supreme Court refused to block the appointment and has set oral arguments for Feb. 1.
State Question 752 adds two at-large members to the Judicial Nominating Commission. Its author, Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, asked the high court to stay Henry's pending Supreme Court appointment until the new members join the commission. Jolley claimed that proceeding "taints the judicial nominating process."