A Senate committee will vote Thursday, June 14, on Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Patrick Wyrick’s nomination to become a federal judge in Oklahoma’s Western District. Though he’s expected to be confirmed along party lines, the process has opened Wyrick up to scrutiny about his work under former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who now heads the Environmental Protection Agency.
When Wyrick was nominated in April, Dean Joseph Harroz of the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law spoke highly of the 37-year-old Wyrick, who previously served as Oklahoma’s Solicitor General, the lead appellate attorney in the state attorney general’s office.
“He is a remarkable intellectual… and he writes exceptionally clearly and well. In the legal community, whenever his name comes up, he is someone who is well respected,” Harroz said. “Whatever you thought of the positions that he took on behalf of the attorney general’s office, you respected the way he wrote.”
Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, echoed those sentiments when he introduced Wyrick in a May 23 hearing for the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“He is a very capable attorney and judge, and will continue to serve Oklahoma and the national well,” Lankford said.
But during the course of that hearing Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, grilled Wyrick on his 2011 correspondence with a lobbyist for Devon Energy— a company Wyrick previously held stock in and that donated to Scott Pruitt.
“Devon Energy directly emailed you a draft letter that the attorney general you then worked for, Mr. Pruitt, took, and after changing just 37 words, sent it into the EPA administrator as if it were the work of the attorney general’s office,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “Afterwards the lobbyist emailed you, ‘Outstanding, please pass along Devon’s thanks.’”
Wyrick maintains he does not recall the email exchange, which was made public under Oklahoma’s Open Records Act.
Whitehouse brought up another draft letter sent to Wyrick from the same Devon Energy lobbyist before making a more general point.
“I wonder how you could expect anyone representing the EPA or an environmental organization to feel that they would get a fair shake in your courtroom,” said Whitehouse.
Following Thursday’s committee vote, Wyrick’s will have to be confirmed by the full Senate.
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