Osage County thanks Kane for service

Robert Smith
M. John Kane IV, at center, gesturing, has a conversation with Joe Tillman, left, speaker of the Osage Nation Congress, and Mike Tolson, a member of the Pawhuska Board of Education, right, in the third-floor courtoom of the Osage County Courthouse. The three talked during a reception held Oct. 24 for Kane, in celebration of his appointment to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Robert Smith/Journal-Capital

Pawhuskans gave John Kane a community hug of sorts last Thursday, applauding their friend, neighbor and colleague’s selection for service on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and lauding his contributions to Osage County.

Kane, who was chosen in September to fill an open seat on the state Supreme Court, entered his old courtroom on the third floor of the county courthouse by himself, without escort and promptly received a warm wave of applause. The occasion, on what was a miserably rainy fall afternoon outside, was a reception in Kane’s honor that took on a mostly informal, sociable character but also featured a few minutes of gift presentation and commentary.

Kane playfully brought the party to order by moving to a microphone and intoning, “Order in the court.”

District Attorney Mike Fisher, in turn, moved to the heart of the matter and called on the gathering for a community expression of thanks.

“This man has meant the world to Osage County for the longest time,” Fisher said of Kane, who served as an assistant district attorney earlier in his career, and more recently from 2005-19 as District Court Judge. “I want you to join me in thanking him for his service.”

Among the gifts Kane received was a gavel, and he remarked that he had, in fact, never before been given a gavel as a gift. He recalled that he thought he was going to receive one when he served as president of the state judicial conference, but it didn’t happen.

“My successor calls me up and says, ‘Judges get so many gavels, I knew you would be bored with that. I got you this nice desk clock,” Kane said. So he had to get promoted to the state Supreme Court to get a gavel.

District 2 County Commissioner Kevin Paslay reads a framed resolution of appreciation for Kane from the Osage County Board of County Commissioners and asked permission to say a prayer of blessing for him, which Kane accepted.

What followed was a short period of candid comment by the honoree, as Kane talked about his approach to seeking the Supreme Court appointment, about his deep attachment to Osage County and his awareness of his dependence on his wife, Cyndi, for support when tackling challenges.

“I’ve really been blessed throughout my life with a clarity of purpose,” Kane said, adding that he has seemed to know how best to employ his energy and ability. “I was at peace with the decision that I needed to make myself available.”

Kane clarified he would have been at peace if he had not been selected, and had stayed on the bench in Osage County. He described Osage County as an “ideal place” to have made his career as a lawyer and a judge.

“This is where my heart will always be,” he said, adding that he would continue to think of the Osage County Courthouse at Pawhuska and its third-floor courtroom as “my courthouse” and “my courtroom.”

Kane said he would not be on the Supreme Court without the support of his wife, Cyndi

“She’s my light and my everything. I can’t do anything wihout her, but there’s nothing I can’t do with her,” he said. He then moved from the intensely personal back to a more sociable frame of mind, inviting the party guests to seek him out for conversation.

“If I haven’t talked to you yet, I’m not avoiding you,” Kane said. “Come grab me.”

Kane filled an Oklahoma Supreme Court seat vacated by Justice John Reif.

Kane is the great-grandson of Matthew John Kane, who served on the Oklahoma Supreme Court for well over a decade and was the court’s second chief justice.

Matthew John Kane, a New Yorker, studied law at Georgetown University and moved to Oklahoma in 1889. He was a delegate to the Oklahoma Constitutional Convention and was appointed to the state Supreme Court in its first session.

In a brief conversation with the Journal-Capital, the great-grandson and new justice described himself as “pro-law,” and a continuing student of the law. He said that he thinks of the Supreme Court’s role as one of going beyond just resolving disputes to engage in a kind of public teaching. That includes sometimes having “to take cases where perhaps there’s never been an answer” and the justices are called on to craft one.

He also articulated an ethic of valuing service to community more highly than pride of place.

“I just don’t think that you can ever succeed in a high office if what you’re interested in is an honor or status,” Kane said. “I think most public servants are interested in working hard and doing the right thing.”