Santa Fe Magistrate Judge Donna Bevacqua-Young is bracing for it. She knows that before too much more time passes, she’ll have to do it. She’s already studied up on the civil code. At some point, the case before her will be about barking dogs.
But until then, Bevacqua- Young will keep juggling all her other duties as the newest judge on the Santa Fe County Magistrate Court. At 45, she's the youngest of the four judges on the local bench, a rare Democrat appointed to the post by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and sworn in on a snowy day in December.
Her doorplates recently arrived, and she’s still waiting for delivery of her judge’s robe. For now, the one she wears practically drags the ground; its puffy sleeves swallow her arms. It belonged to Judge Richard “Buzzy” Padilla, whose retirement created the vacancy that she filled.
Her first day on the job, she had to issue a court evacuation order after a defendant disclosed that she was infected with the highly contagious skin ailment scabies. Bevacqua- Young made the call to close court for the day as a precaution.
"Being a prosecutor you have to think quick on your feet, and since I come from a big Italian family, I am kind of trained to be like a multitasker. There are always 100 things going on at once," she says. "I'm enjoying it. There is never a dull moment in court."
Not all the judges to serve as magistrates in Santa Fe County have been attorneys (state law requires this for district judges) but she comes to the post with a substantial background in law.
The court hears alleged violations of state laws at the misdemeanor level, including lots of drunken-driving infractions, an area th at Bevacqua-Young has a specialty in. Locals might remember her name from a number of high-profile cases
that she prosecuted while an assistant district attorney, and as a special prosecutor for the attorney general. Among them was Alfred Lovato, the passenger in a car that struck and killed a pedestrian on Guadalupe Street in 2008.
The 2012 case was the first time a New Mexico prosecutor tested what's known as the "party to a crime accessory liability theory" in a drunk-driving case, basically arguing that Lovato conspired to get drunk with the car's driver, Carlos Fierro, allowed him to get behind the wheel in that condition and didn't call police after the fatal hit-andrun crash. Even though Lovato was acquitted of the charges, Bevacqua-Young says the case was important.
"My personal opinion as well as my professional opinion is that if we are going to reduce DWI in New Mexico, we all have to be responsible to the community," she says. "So if any of us are driving with one of our friends and our friend is completely blasted gone drunk driving, you have a responsibility…I think it sent that message."
"It's all about mutual respect in this courtroom. So I'll be respectful to you and you be respectful to me."
While she makes no promises of leniency, the judge has some advice for defendants who land in front of her: Civility will take you far.
"There are people who come in and they are angry and they have attitude," she says. "I have to tell them 'It's all about mutual respect in this courtroom. So I'll be respectful to you and you be respectful to me. That is the way it works and if you can't do that, then I am going to have you either step outside and take a moment or I'm going to have you come back on another day.' It's all about decorum in the courtroom. I have had to say that to a few people already."
Making it to a judgeship at this stage of life was bittersweet for Bevacqua-Young. Her husband John had been a big proponent of her getting to that rung on the career ladder, but he wasn't there to see it happen because he died of brain cancer about five years ago. She says she's still adjusting to the realization that her "Plan A" didn't work out.
"The way I think, like, most people have a plan for their life, and I think you never follow the plan exactly," she says. "My husband and I, our plan was for me to be a great attorney and to be a judge and for us to have like four or five kids running around Santa Fe, and that didn't happen."
The next part of Plan B is to have voters retain her on the ballot in the June primary and November general elections. She's now collecting signatures to submit in preparation for the June primary. About 400 are due by March. Although she's heard she might face opposition, no other contenders have made such an announcement yet.