On June 1, nine Democrats will compete for spots in four divisions of the 1st Judicial District Court, which oversees Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties. SFR asked all of the candidates (four of whom are sitting judges through appointment) to respond in writing to a questionnaire about their races; responses to four of their questions are below. SFR also edited responses with our internal style guide for consistency.
1. Please describe how your professional experiences qualify you for this position.
2. What personal qualities do you bring to the court that voters should know about?
3. What improvements do you think are needed at the court?
4. How can New Mexico improve the ethical standards for its judges?
5. As a judge, how do you (or would you) handle cases that touch upon your personal beliefs?
6. What is your strategy for dealing with the rising numbers of pro se litigants?
7. The First District Court gained a new judgeship this year, but it came at the expense of a dedicated hearing officer position for domestic violence cases. Do you believe the state Legislature should restore funding for the hearing officer position, or is the current arrangement adequate? Please explain.
8. What do you believe is the single biggest cause of the case backlog at the First District Court, and what will you do to address it?
Peter V Culbert, 65 (Division 2)
1. First, education: B.A. degree in English from Cornell University; Masters’ degree in English from the State University of NY at Buffalo; law degree (J.D.) University of New Mexico 1977.
Second, honors: While in law school I was selected to be Processing Editor of the New Mexico Law Review, 1976-1977. After graduation, I was merit-selected to be law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Mack Easley. I am listed as a member of the Distinguished Lawyers in the peer-reviewed directory published by Martindale-Hubbell. I am listed in Who’s Who in American Law. I have previously been nominated for judgeship by the Judicial Selection Committee.
Third, experience. have been in private practice as an attorney for over 30 years. I have extensive experience litigating cases in district courts, both statewide and in the 1st Judicial District, which includes the counties of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos.
Fourth, service. I have served the people of New Mexico for my entire career. I speak Spanish. I understand and relate to the people. I know the community because I have raised 5 children in New Mexico and put them through school here and through college. I practice law to help people, not to receive awards. I want to put my experience to work now for the people as a judge.
2. Integrity; fairness, intelligence, service to the community, and 30 years’ of hard work.
3. The most important thing is to provide prompt and fair justice to all the people. A judge needs to get his docket organized and move cases along. I will work to assure the people that each case is handled fairly and promptly and urge all lawyers appearing before me to work towards this goal.
4. The standards are there. The people need to elect judges such as myself who will adhere to the highest ethical standards.
5. Judges are required by law to set aside their personal beliefs which would in any way impact upon the facts or law applicable to a particular case. However, qualities such as integrity, fairness, decisiveness, and basic common sense are important qualities in a judge which should be applied in every case.
6. I believe that the newly–created judge position will help with the overload created by litigants who appear in court who cannot afford an attorney. I will work with the other judges to develop informational materials in both English and Spanish to help persons without attorneys to understand court processes.
7. Given the finances available, the creation of the new judge position is probably all we can hope for at this time. However, if additional funding became available from the Legislature, reinstating a hearing officer for domestic violence cases would be very helpful.
8. The single biggest cause of case backlog is both the number of cases being filed and the ability of the court to move them along promptly to a fair resolution. I will work to urge attorneys as well as litigant appearing without counsel to attend mandatory pre-trial mediation and settlement conferences. I will not tolerate frivolous motions filed to delay prosecution of cases. I will do my best to set trial settings and pre-trial deadlines early on and make the parties adhere to the deadlines.
Gary D Elion, 63 (Division 8)
1. The Division 8 judge will be assigned to hear Domestic Violence cases. I have been litigating such cases for over 27 years and began doing so with Legal Assistance when I was a law student. My first case assignment was a woman whose husband had taken a hot iron to the left side of her face. After we obtained a restraining order, she decided to go back to him. That experience so horrified me that immersed myself in every piece of literature and every study I could lay my hands on to learn more about domestic violence, its origins, its symptoms and how to deal with it. That learning continues to this day as does my abhorrence of domestic violence and domestic abuse in all of its manifestations. My years of experience in domestic violence and family law cases qualify me for this position. I have a superb education with a B.A. from Williams College, an MBA from Harvard Business School and a J.D. from the University of San Francisco Law School.
2. I have the experience, integrity and wisdom to be a capable and responsible judge. More than that, I have the compassion and understanding for the clients I represent to make me qualified for the position. I listen. People want to be heard. Doing what is just has always, for me, meant providing low cost or no cost legal services to those who need them. At this point in my carrer, doing what is just means taking this next step to be able to do what is right for the people who deserved to be served with the same fairness and justice as if they could pay for the finest and brightest lawyers even when they cannot afford a lawyer at all.
3. Here are just a few suggestions from my list:
a. The domestic violence courtroom should expand the day by starting hearings earlier and running them later.
b. Better information should be available on the Court's website such as a bilingual divorce pamphlet.
c. When someone has to hire a lawyer to chase down a deadbeat dad or mom to get child support paid, the Court should order the deadbeat to pay the lawyer's fees.
d. An Order to Show Cause should be served with a bilingual notice that tells a pro se litigant what they need to do, including filing an answer in writing.
e. Specify times when people can present an application for a Temporary Order of Protection to accommodate working people and cause them less inconvenience.
The list continues. But, the theme is clear. These are largely queue management issues that deal with the way litigants join the queue to wait for service and the way litigants already in the queue are selected for service.
4. The Code of Judicial Conduct sets clear standards of conduct, ethics and behavior. If you take a look at the judges of the District Court in our judicial district, you will see that every single one of them meets or exceeds those standards of conduct, ethics and behavior. Any litigant who has a legitimate and proper grievance against a judge is free to file a complaint with the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission.
5. Ruling according to the law has nothing to do with personal beliefs. A District Court Judge has an obligation to rule in accordance with the law and not in accordance with personal beliefs. If I were assigned to a case where I believed that I could not separate my obligations as a judge from my personal beliefs, I would be obligated to recuse myself so that the case could be assigned to another judge. As a former Superior Court Judge Pro Tem, an arbitrator for the United States District Court, a commercial arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association and an arbitrator for three Superior Courts, this never occurred.
6. As the judge of a domestic violence courtroom, my first commitment is that children come first. Their interests will be considered first and foremost. My second commitment is to implement a Pro Se Litigants' Bill of Rights. The Pro Se Litigants' Bill of Rights requires that (1) all people will be treated with respect and dignity, (2) the judge will LISTEN and hear people out before making a decision and (3) that the judge will make people aware of the same alternatives that a private attorney could provide, including options such as a “no contact order” entered in a divorce case when the circumstances are appropriate. A Pro Se Litigant is a smart litigant. We need to see that they understand not just the rules, but the reasons for those rules.
7. The plan to “upgrade” from a dedicated hearing officer to a dedicated judge is brilliant. We now have a judge dedicated to hearing domestic violence cases. Among other things, it means that people are not inconvenienced and forced to wait around while a hearing officer tries to find a judge to sign an order. It means that the new judge can take overflow domestic matters to help other judges with their caseloads. It keeps a position dedicated to hearing domestic violence cases and builds in a layer of flexibility that did not exist before. For these reasons, this new approach is going to be a better way for both litigants and the Court to handle domestic violence cases.
8. The two biggest causes of the case backlog are repeat mistakes and vexatious litigants. First, we need to identify and correct mistakes that keep reoccurring. For example, we have a court provided Marital Settlement Agreement that can be used by pro se litigants. It needs to state that both parties understand that the agreement applies only to them and that a creditor may still pursue both parties for an unpaid community debt. By way of another example, every Child Support Order should state that any modification to child support must be in writing, must be signed by a judge and must be filed with the Court. Second, we need to create standards for vexatious litigants to stop people who keep coming back and coming back and coming back. A vexatious litigant is one who acting pro se repeatedly files unmeritorious motions, pleadings, other papers, conducts unnecessary discovery, or engages in other tactics that are frivolous or solely intended to cause unnecessary delay. Imposing penalties on vexatious litigants will cut the case backlog.
Experience is the best predictor of how an individual will act in tough ethical situations. When we are looking at a potential judicial candidates background we need to know how varied that background is and how the individual responded under pressure. A person’s ethics is not something that is created on the spot but rather is the result of that individuals life time of experience.
I feel all Judges should conduct themselves in such a way that their personal beliefs are not a concern for the litigants or their counsel. If a Judge does anything that brings this issue into question, it is the right of the litigant to bring to the Judge’s attention and for the Judge to openly respond to the concern and remove himself or herself from the case if necessary.
Margaret Kegel, 49 (Division 8)
1. I have served the citizens of the First Judicial District as a District Court Judge for a period of time in 2002 and as the Domestic Relations Hearing Officer/Domestic Violence Special Commissioner for nine years. I have heard more than eleven thousand domestic violence cases and more than three thousand family court cases. I received extensive training in handling domestic violence cases and subsequently was invited to provide training to other agencies as well. I have served as an expert in domestic violence law for the Legislature during two sessions, and have provided training to local law enforcement agencies and many other organizations.
2. I was born and raised in Northern New Mexico. I have served our community as a licensed attorney for 21 years. In my work, I have dedicated my time and effort to improving the lives of families by teaming with other experts in an attempt to reduce violence in our community. I have been willing and able to work outside the usual confines of my employment in pursuit of reduction of violence. Though working with domestic violence and child abuse is difficult, every success is well worth the effort.
3. The courts must become more responsive to the needs of our community. In these harsh economic times, the court must strive to be more efficient. Having recently returned to private practice, I have become very much aware of the negative financial impact on my clients caused by delayed hearings. In addition, the need to travel in person to the court house to process pleadings is burdensome. The court must become more accessible to all people in our judicial district by providing increased customer service, improving its internet site, allowing filing of pleadings and payment of fees to be made on-line.
4. New Mexico has high ethical standards for its judges. Improvement could be made in educating the judges and the public regarding those standards. Unfortunately, there are very few opportunities for judges to interact with the public at forums or other such events outside of the courtroom setting.
5 5. Having been born and raised in Northern New Mexico, I was fortunate to have the experience of living in a diverse community and of having lifelong friends who come from many cultures, races and religions. From my friends and family, I learned that the world is wonderful because each person is an individual worthy of respect. If a person appeared before me with a different personal belief, I embraced that instance as an opportunity to learn something new.
6. Pro se litigants should be welcomed into the court, and not be in any way discouraged from seeking to resolve their disputes as they are entitled by law. The courts are, after all, comprised of public servants who earn their positions and their pay at the will of the citizens of our community. The courts must become more “user friendly” to our pro se litigants by increasing customer service and improving on-line information.
7. It remains to be seen whether the current arrangement is adequate. As the former Domestic Relations Hearing Officer, I was assigned much more than domestic violence cases. I also heard one half of the interim allocation and child support cases, Children’s Court matters, and all involuntary mental health commitments. Since the remaining Child Support Hearing Officer is funded by the federal government to hear only cases handled by the Child Support Enforcement Division, there may be a need to hire a hearing officer to handle the private child support cases.
8. It is important that all judges be enlisted to provide support whenever any division finds itself in the position of having a backlog of cases. I did not experience having a backlog of cases either as a judge or hearing officer. If I did inherit a backlog of cases or was asked to assist with a backlog, I would enlist the assistance of all judges, hearing officers and attorneys to hold a “settlement week” in an attempt to settle those matters which could be settled. I would provide firm settings on all remaining cases.
Mary L. Marlowe, 52 (Division 8)
1. I am the Judge for Division VIII of the First Judicial District Court. I preside over domestic violence cases filed in Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties. All domestic violence cases in the three county area come to me. I expect to soon be assigned family law cases that have a domestic violence component, or those cases that have both a domestic relations case filed and a domestic violence case filed. This will provide consistency in each case and allow me to know all domestic issues related to a particular case.
My law career began in New Mexico 25 years ago. I worked at the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office in the Civil Division, under Attorney General Paul Bardacke. I was one of two attorneys that represented the State Board of Finance, and the NM General Services Department. I also represented other boards and commissions. After my first child was born in 1986, I resigned and opened a law practice with my former husband, called The Marlowe Law Firm. My work involved family law, juvenile law, civil law, appellate law, and criminal law. I saw first-hand the damage done by domestic violence to families and children. I also came to appreciate the confusion and frustration that many families face when introduced to the judicial system. My husband and I divorced and I since remarried attorney Eric Sommer.
After leaving private practice, I went to work for the First Judicial District Court as the Domestic Relations Hearing Officer/Child Support Hearing Officer. In that capacity I presided over child support matters which included conducting evidentiary hearings to set, enforce, and modify child support, and related matters. I also presided over domestic violence cases, reviewing petitions for orders of protection, issuing temporary orders of protection, and conducting evidentiary hearings on orders of protection. Additionally, I presided over debt and income allocation hearings pending final decrees of dissolution of marriage. In addition to these duties, the judges gave me the additional duty of conducting contempt hearings on orders to show cause related to child support.
I serve on the First District Court’s pro bono committee which addresses providing education and adequate representation to persons that cannot afford an attorney in family law matters. I had annual domestic violence training annually as a domestic relations hearing officer. In addition, while a hearing officer I had the benefit of attending the New Mexico Judicial Conclave, a three day training for all levels of judges, state-wide in New Mexico. The next Judicial Conclave is next month. Throughout my years as a practicing attorney, I have attended countless classes, seminars, and trainings for all areas of my former practice, including but not limited to domestic abuse and family law matters. I received my law degree from George Mason University School of Law in 1985.
2. I bring a strong work ethic, commitment to my work, a seriousness of purpose, fairness, empathy, compassion, decisiveness, and tenacity.
3. We are working in cramped quarters and I look forward to a new courthouse. We are also short judges, which I address later herein. The First District Court is made up of hard-working people. I can state unequivocally that all take pride in their jobs and work hard as a team. Judge Jim Hall upon his retirement, wrote an email to all employees thanking all of them for being the hard-working employees that they are. I have the benefit of operating at full-staff. My division was given an extra administrative assistant in light of my heavy caseload. All of the judges are provided a secretary, bailiff and court reporter. However, the Court recognizes the greater staffing need that the volume of domestic violence creates; hence the additional administrative assistance for my division, in addition to the secretary provided to all judges.
4. The ethical standards for New Mexico judges are high as set forth in the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Judicial Standards Commission, an independent state agency, is the only state agency with the responsibility to investigate, conduct hearings and recommend sanctions to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
There is a distinction between improving ethical standards and improving each judge’s adherence to these standards. Improving a judge’s adherence to these standards begins with each individual judge’s responsibility to do so. Providing mandatory training on ethics for judges, annually if not more often, would be an appropriate way to improve
each judge’s adherence to these standards. The Code regulates conduct on the bench and off the bench.
5. Impartially. By definition and by the Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge cannot consider his/her personal beliefs in deciding a case before him/her. I never get tired of hearing a judge likened to an umpire, calling it as he/she sees it.
If a judge cannot be fair or impartial for any reason, he/she must recuse themselves. I have recused myself as a hearing officer and as a judge, when I have represented one of the litigants in a case in years past, or when a lawyer is scheduled to appear before me with whom I have or have had a personal association. In both circumstances, my impartiality might reasonably be questioned by one of the parties before me, even if I would be fair despite the circumstances.
6. Pro se litigants are those litigants that do not have a licensed attorney in the courtroom on their behalf, and who go forward on their own behalf. I find that pro se litigants do a good job in representing themselves. My docket involves between 85-90 percent pro se litigants. I conduct formal evidentiary hearings with one party presenting his/her case and then the other party presenting his/her case. New Mexico cases uniformly hold that a self-represented litigant is held to the same standards as if an attorney were involved in the case. Evidence Rules 11-611A and 11-614B permit me to question witnesses where the evidence presented is insufficient to fully and fairly resolve all issues presented. I may also call additional witnesses under Rule 11-624A, and am able to explain procedures to litigants so that they may comply with the procedures. A decision based on incomplete evidence is not a fair decision.
When I was hearing officer, in response to the large percentage of pro se litigants coming before me, I implemented a discovery order that identified specifically what documents were needed for the upcoming hearing, and also instructed the parties to file a notice of non-compliance if they had not received the required documents. This allowed all parties to be educated and timely prepared for the upcoming hearing.
Notably, because 85-95 percent of domestic violence cases involve pro se litigants, this translates to the legal system meeting 10-15 percent of litigants’ needs in terms of providing representation. This is not the fault of the family law bar, which is small, but very active and involved in pro bono work. But, these statistics certainly encourage more attorneys to be involved in the process of representing domestic violence litigants. Pro se cases are increasing because hiring attorneys in hard economic times is less feasible than otherwise, and for some, there is disenchantment with the legal system.
7. The current arrangement is not merely adequate but of great benefit to the people of the community involved in domestic violence matters. Prior to this new judgeship, cases came before myself and the other hearing officer for the First District Court. (Barbara Michael was the last to serve in this capacity before the position expired.) Judges were involved at a review level and did not have the opportunity to see the parties in person and to evaluate them and their demeanor and the nuanced circumstances of the case. Now, as the Judge for Domestic Violence cases, I am deeply involved in the process and it is a win-win for litigants and the Court, and therefore the community.
I know, first-hand, the problems we have with getting people served and I am working hard to eliminate this problem. Each case begins and proceeds not only to final order, but throughout compliance to the term of the order, with me. I am able to know the parties and the evidence presented first-hand. I receive counseling and program compliance information first-hand. And very importantly, I receive information on violations of the no contact portion of the order of protection first-hand. I am able to evaluate first-hand whether there is a legal basis for issuing an order of protection in the first place, since some petitions are not well-founded and should not result in an order of protection being issued. Because I know all aspects of a case that comes before me, I do not hesitate to exercise my contempt powers and take immediate action on violations. Orders of protection have no meaning without the power of enforcement. The domestic violence hearing officer position did not have this power. Incarceration for offenders is the most effective tool to stop domestic violence and it is my duty as judge to exercise this enforcement power. Educating victims that their recourse for violations is law enforcement and the Court is a necessary precedent to this enforcement tool.
It is unrealistic to expect the Legislature to add a domestic violence hearing officer position back to the Court after a new judgeship was added, given the harsh economic climate we find ourselves in. It is much more cost effective in the long run to add another judge than a hearing officer. While a hearing officer’s salary is 80 percent of a district judge, a judge is able to hear a much broader array of cases than a hearing officer.
8. The shortage of judges. The First District Court has a “critical need” for a new judge, based on a 2007 study by the NM Sentencing Commission and the National Center for State Courts. The study indicated that the district needed 3.58 additional judges. With the latest addition of Division VIII, we are still short 2.58 additional judges. This is the first new judgeship added to the First District Court in thirteen years. Previously, a new judge had been added every six or seven years. Certainly, I will make myself available in my capacity as one of the judges of the First Judicial District, to answer any questions the Legislature or any one else may have regarding this shortage of judges, in order to reduce or eliminate this shortage. The Family Violence Protection Act has a built in time requirement for cases to be heard so I do not have a case backlog with respect to domestic violence cases but I do have what is referred to as a heavy docket. However, with the domestic relations component added to my caseload, my docket will be required to accommodate the statutory time line of domestic violence cases and the additional domestic relations cases. I will continue to address these cases as I have always done, and that is by setting and conducting as many hearings as possible each day, on a schedule that allows me to give each case my full attention.
Yvonne K. Quintana, 43 (Division V)
1. I have engaged in a general law practice handling all types of cases in all areas of the law. By engaging in this broadly scoped type of law practice, I have acquired experience, which uniquely qualifies me for this position. The docket assigned to Division V, is one, which encompasses criminal, family and civil cases out of Rio Arriba County and my general practice background will be an asset to this docket.
My experience includes the following:
LICENSURE: Member, in good standing, New Mexico State Bar Association, since October 25, 1995. New Mexico State Bar Number 8324. Member, in good standing with Santa Clara Pueblo Tribal Court, Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Court, and Isleta Pueblo Court.GENERAL PRACTICE: Solo practitioner since October 25, 1995, engaging in the general practice of law. This practice includes handling a broad variety of cases in many areas of law, including but not limited to the following:
DOMESTIC RELATIONS: Representation of individuals in matters concerning divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, property division, etc., including representation of individuals, families and children in matters related to Domestic Violence. Counsel has addressed issues related to the Indian Child Welfare Act, cultural and religious ceremony participation for Native American children in many divorce or family law cases. Counsel has handled contempt proceedings in domestic relations proceedings for both Petitioners and Respondents, for failure to abide by orders of the Court.
CRIMINAL LAW: Representation of both adult and juvenile Defendants in a variety of criminal proceedings on misdemeanors and felonies, including DWI, Assault and Battery, Criminal Domestic Violence, Resisting or Evading an Officer, Criminal Contempt, Shoplifting, Drug Possession, Vehicular Homicide, Criminal Sexual Contact, etc. Emphasis in criminal representation has been in DWI matters. I have extensive knowledge concerning the implied consent requirements and procedures, which are required in properly effectuating these types of arrests and defending them in court. Representation of defendants has also involved transfer of adult and juvenile cases to Tribal Court for resolution of criminal matters in Tribal Court.
SCHOOL LAW: For a period of nine years, I represented the Espanola Public School District and at times the Mesa Vista Consolidated School District, in all matters excepting those, which are handled by the insurance authority. Representation of the School District included preparation and review of contracts and agreements, personnel matters and providing general legal advice concerning school matters to the Board of Education, Administrators and school personnel, as needed. Legal advice was provided to the Board of Education and administration concerning school law issues, procurement, the Open Meetings Act, personnel matters, board policies and any other legal issues which arose in the daily operations of the District including Special Education matters.