Making Democracy Work

Los Alamos Voter Guide 2016: New Mexico State Judicial Offices

Vacancies for courts in New Mexico are filled through appointment by the governor from a slate of potential nominees submitted by a judicial nominating committee. The newly appointed judge must then run in a contested, partisan election at the next general election. Thereafter, the judge runs in nonpartisan retention elections for set terms. In a partisan election, the candidate receiving the most votes will be elected. To be retained, a judge must receive at least 57% "yes" votes out of all those cast for that office. The website of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee, http://www.nmjpec.org , includes evaluations and information about retention candidates.

Justice of the Supreme Court Candidates

Judith K. Nakamura (Republican)

1. How have your training, professional experience, and interests prepared you to serve on this court?

As one of five Supreme Court Justices, I help resolve a wide spectrum of complex legal issues and supervise state courts. My extensive civil law experience--private, corporate and governmental--and my past service as a former Metropolitan Court and District Court criminal trial judge, is unique on our Court. My four terms as the Metropolitan Court's Chief Judge provide invaluable court managerial skills.

2. What programs or changes would improve the New Mexico Supreme Court?

Difficult economic times have led to a stark diminution of judicial resources, without a corresponding decrease in cases. Improved resource availability, along with better allocation to need areas and core support staffing, can best facilitate the most important objective: improving the timely disposition of court cases. People's lives hang in the balance when justice is delayed; my goal is to speed the process up.

3. What is your judicial philosophy?

My philosophy is to correctly resolve the cases that come before the Supreme Court. To do so, the Constitution is to be followed, as are laws written by our Legislators. Jurists must non-creatively and faithfully honor precedent. Fairness, punctuality, evenhandedness and respect for litigants are the philosophic hallmarks of judicial service.

4. What has been your greatest achievement as a judge?

My greatest achievement is the unprecedented privilege of serving at every level of our Court system, currently as a Supreme Court Justice. Along the way, I was honored by MADD as its national judge of the year for combatting DWI, I sped up and tried dozens of delayed criminal cases at District Court. I have now authored or participated in dozens of Supreme Court decisions.

Michael E. Vigil (Democrat)

1. How have your training, professional experience, and interests prepared you to serve on this court?

I am Chief Judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals, on which I have served since 2003. I have sat on over 3,000 appellate cases and written over 1,000 appellate opinions. I appeared as counsel in every NM judicial district and was appellate counsel in over 50 precedent-setting cases as a practicing attorney for 27 years before serving on the Court of Appeals.

2. What programs or changes would improve the New Mexico Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court can provide for the safety of our children and communities by Implementing practical rules for district attorneys and courts and by creating tools that laboratories and police officers need to do their jobs.

3. What is your judicial philosophy?

My judicial philosophy is that everyone, regardless of their race, religion, sex, national origin, social class, or sexual orientation should have their day in court and be heard because justice isn't only about laws, it's about lives.

4. What has been your greatest achievement as a judge?

My greatest achievement has been working hard for the last 13 years on the Court of Appeals for all the people of New Mexico to enforce the laws and protect their rights: their personal rights, their property rights, their constitutional rights. I have twice been recommended as qualified for the NM Supreme Court by the bi-partisan Appellate Judges Nominating Commission.

Judge of the Court of Appeals Candidates

The 10 judges on the Court of Appeals are elected statewide and serve eight-year terms. Eligibility requirements: a person must be 35 years old, have practiced law for at least 10 years, and have resided in New Mexico for the last three years. As the intermediate appellate court between the district courts and the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals reviews appeals in all cases, except criminal cases involving sentences of death or life imprisonment, appeals from the Public Regulation Commission, and cases involving habeas corpus. The judges sit in panels of three judges to decide cases.

Judge of the Court of Appeals - Partisan

Stephen G. French (Republican)

1. How have your training, professional experience, and interests prepared you to serve on this court?

For 35 years, I had the pleasure of meeting the legal needs of New Mexicans, as a prosecutor, criminal defense attorney, and a civil attorney. I handled over 110 appeals. I have been as a mediator and successfully resolved hundreds of complex cases. Now as a sitting Judge, I am familiar with the process and I have already decided several important matters before the Court.

2. What programs or changes would improve the New Mexico Court of Appeals?

We need to continue to focus on the efficient administration of justice. I would like to see the Court of Appeals implement an electronic filing system. This would bring efficiency to the Court and the litigants.

3. What is your judicial philosophy?

Fairness must always come before politics. Every person, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or their political party is entitled to a full and fair hearing before the Court. That is the kind of Judge I am and that's the kind of Judge I will continue to be.

4. What has been your greatest achievement as a judge?

In the short time I have been on the Court of Appeals, I have demonstrated my clear commitment to the fair and equal administration of justice, to resolving cases expeditiously, and to fostering the collegiality and dignity of the Court.

Julie J. Vargas (Democrat)

1. How have your training, professional experience, and interests prepared you to serve on this court?

I was born and raised in Old Town, Albuquerque, where I still live. For 23 years, I've protected the rights of New Mexican families and New Mexico small businesses. I've dedicated my career to improving the legal profession, especially in the area of legal ethics. I've volunteered my time and services for NM Museum of Natural History Foundation, Children's Cancer Fund and Special Olympics.

2. What programs or changes would improve the New Mexico Court of Appeals?

The Court of Appeals lags behind other New Mexico courts in the area of technology. While other courts are equipped for electronic filing and allow online access to court documents, the Court of Appeals does not have those capabilities. Budget constraints over the past several years have prevented the much-needed technological upgrades that would modernize the Court and make it more accessible to the public.

3. What is your judicial philosophy?

Know the law, understand the facts, and apply the law fairly and equally to everyone who comes before you, without exception.

4. What has been your greatest achievement as a judge?

My greatest professional achievement is my work on lawyer ethics. I am a member of the Disciplinary Board, making disciplinary recommendations to the Supreme Court about lawyers who violate ethical rules. I am an 18-year member of the Bar's Ethics Advisory Committee, advising lawyers on ethical dilemmas. I have chaired that committee since 2008. I have also taught legal ethics at the UNM Law School.

District Judges - 1st Judicial District - Partisan Candidates

New Mexico's 33 counties are divided into 13 judicial districts. The First Judicial District includes Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe Counties. These are courts of general jurisdiction that hold jury trials in the following types of civil cases: tort, contract, real property rights and estate contests. The district courts in New Mexico generally have exclusive jurisdiction over domestic relations, mental health, appeals for administrative agencies and lower courts, criminal appeals, and juvenile cases. To be eligible a person must be at least 35 years old, have practiced law for at least six years preceding assumption of office, and reside in the district for which he/she is elected. Judges serve six-year terms.

Jennifer L. Attrep

(Division 5)

(Democrat)

Unopposed

Judicial Retention Election

In a nonpartisan retention election, voters may vote either "yes" or "no" for each judge standing for retention. To retain office, a judge must receive 57% "yes" votes out of all the votes cast on the question of retention. The website of the Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee, http://www.nmjpec.org , includes evaluations and information about judicial retention candidates.

Justice of the Supreme Court - Retention

Barbara J. Vigil

Judge of the Court of Appeals - Retention

Jonathan B. Sutin

Tim L. Garcia

M. Monica Zamora