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Judging the Judges

SFR queries this season’s contenders

May 12, 2010, 12:00 am

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.

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