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Judging the Judges

SFR queries this season’s contenders

May 12, 2010, 12:00 am

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.

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