With a week and a half on the job, Thad Balkman seems to have settled into being Cleveland County’s newest district judge.
“I’ve had a lot of firsts this week as I’ve presided over my first criminal docket today (Friday). Earlier this week, I was in the courtroom on some other matters,” Balkman said. “I went home Monday night [Nov. 4] and told [my wife] Amy, ‘I think I’m going to like this job because its like no two things are alike.’ I like the variety of the different cases that are brought before me.”
Balkman was officially sworn in Nov. 1 by Judge Charles Johnson of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Balkman replaces longtime judge Tom Lucas, who retired this past summer.
“I’m really lucky to be a part of a courthouse and a judicial team that has a lot of experience and has been very helpful in guiding me. Whenever I’ve had how-to questions, they’ve been very helpful,” Balkman said.
Balkman, a father of five, admits it’s difficult to see families and children in his courtroom who have made bad choices, and the effects it has had on them. But it’s also one of the reasons he applied for the position as judge.
“I get a lot of satisfaction in helping others solve their problems. I like the new challenge of being able to help people through the perspective of a judge. I’m hopeful as I grow in this position, that I will be in the position to help people who have made some bad choices and help them through the course of the law where they can become productive citizens again. That doesn’t always mean that you are going to go easy on them or be tough on them, that’s the challenge I face as a judge, what is the best course of action for this person,” Balkman said.
The former state legislator was appointed by Gov. Mary Fallin to fill the remainder of Lucas’ four-year term. Balkman will be on the ballot in 2014 for a four-year term. An additional district judgeship, Cleveland County’s fourth, also will be on the 2014 ballot.
“I was really humbled that the governor selected me because there was some really good, qualified people that applied,” Balkman said
Being a judge is not Balkman’s only priority. A bishop at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Balkman oversees a congregation of about 500 in the Norman 4th Ward.
“I’d like to think that everything I do in life is influenced by my faith. Because at the end of the day, rather I’m a judge, a legislator, a lawyer — those are just temporarily titles — my primary task is to be a good father and a follower of Christ. I don’t think I can divorce my faith from my daily life,” Balkman said.
As a judge, Balkman thinks that his faith will be an asset when he’s facing tough decisions.
“I’d like to think having the belief in a higher power, for me that’s Jesus Christ, does give me a pattern to follow. I think one of the challenges we all face is being true to our faith and also at the same time recognizing that we live in a free country. As a judge, I’m going to be asked to pass judgment on people who may have very different faiths than me or no faith. And when I’m a judge, I will treat everyone the same in the courtroom, I don’t care what your religion is because quite frankly that is something that won’t be brought before me,” Balkman said.
Balkman admits that spending about 20 hours a week with church obligations can be a stretch, but somehow he manages to fit it all in.
“It’s a big demand on my time. I’m very fortunate in having a wife and children who support me in doing that. It’s amazing that I can still give a good honest day to my employer and still have time for my church work and somehow I’m able to do it all. I’ve had to make sacrifices, I really don’t follow a lot of sports. But I’ve been fortunate in my position in church where I’ve given counsel to a lot of people, families and couples and teenagers, and I think that’s prepared me for being a judge. I think it’s also helped me be compassionate as well, to realize people do make mistakes and we need to be able to help them where we can,” Balkman said.
What Balkman says he really wants is for people to feel comfortable in his courtroom.
“I want people to feel comfortable that when they come before me, I’m going to listen to them. And that I don’t walk in to any case having already made up my mind. One of the skills I’ve been working on is being a better listener. I’ve found a lot of times you can do a lot more good with less talking,” Balkman said.