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Pop Quiz: 2024 Primary Election

Magistrate Judge Morgan Wood faces off against Melissa Mascareñas

Two Democrats face off for the Santa Fe County Magistrate judge, Division 2: Incumbent Judge Morgan Wood and Melissa Mascareñas. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Wood to the seat in July 2023, after Magistrate Judge Dev Khalsa’s DWI arrest and resignation. Under state law, Wood must be elected in the next election following her appointment to remain in the seat. Then, if elected, she would have to run again at what would have been the end of Khalsa’s term—2026. No Republicans or Libertarians—the state’s other major parties—will appear on the general election ballot.

Per SFR’s ground rules, the candidates agree to not use any sources besides their own knowledge to answer the quiz questions. SFR records the conversations and reports the answers verbatim. Early voting for the June 4 primary continues through June 4. Find voting locations and additional information at sfreporter.com/elections

Questions

  1. True or False: Violation of a restraining order constitutes aggravated stalking.
  2. How were magistrate judge salaries changed during the 2024 regular legislative session?
  3. What are the qualifications for a magistrate judge in Santa Fe County? Bonus: Per statute, what in New Mexico determines whether a magistrate judge needs to be a member of the bar?
  4. Describe how an ongoing pilot program to expedite criminal cases in state courts, which launched in 2022, impacts the Santa Fe County Magistrate Court.
  5. What is the difference between a de novo appeal and a Heinsen appeal?

Answers

  1. False. According to NM Stat § 30-3A-3.1, aggravated stalking consists of stalking perpetrated by a person who knowingly violates an order of protection; however, the act of stalking must be proven to elevate the charge to aggravated stalking, otherwise the act is only classified as a violation of the restraining order.
  2. The formula to determine salaries for magistrate court judges was removed and instead magistrates will be paid by the Legislature in an appropriations act, per House Bill 141, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed in early February. The bill also increased the salary of New Mexico Supreme Court justices to $232,600—with the chief justice receiving an additional $2,000—and kept formulas to determine salaries for Court of Appeals judges, district court judges and metropolitan court judges.
  3. Magistrate judges only need a high school diploma and must reside in the magistrate district for which they are elected or appointed. Bonus: Population size. If a magistrate district had a population of over 200,000 in the last federal decennial census, a judge must be a member of the New Mexico bar and licensed to practice law in the state. One exception exists in the statute—if a magistrate judge is not a member of the bar at the time of the census’ publication, they can remain on the bench.
  4. The pilot program removes the state requirement for conducting pretrial interviews with law enforcement in misdemeanor cases, but makes the magistrate court responsible for holding a status conference for un-jailed defendants early in the criminal proceedings. During the conference, defendants can make a plea, enter a pre-prosecution diversion program and waive a preliminary hearing. In addition, all traffic violation cases are now conducted remotely. When the pilot program launched, officials did not determine a set end date, so it continues today, Administrative Office of the Courts Public Information Officer Barry Massey tells SFR.
  5. In a de novo appeal, the court that is hearing the case disregards the legal conclusion made by the lower court. In a Heinsen appeal—or an appeal by the state from a ruling in Magistrate Court to District Court to refile the charges—the court has to address the suppression that occurred prior and make its own finding about what happened in Magistrate Court.

Morgan Wood, 50 (75/100)

Prior to her appointment to magistrate, Wood, a lawyer, worked as a public defender and as a prosecutor in the Children’s Court in the First Judicial District.

Answers:

  1. True. (0/20)
  2. Honestly, I don’t pay attention to the salary, but I know that other judges—we all have our salaries as a percentage of the Supreme Court salaries. (5/20)
  3. You need to either have a high school diploma or the equivalent, and you need to live in the district. (20/20) Bonus: It depends on how many people live in that district. (20 points)
  4. It doesn’t impact us as much as it impacts the District Court because those are cases in the District Court. It doesn’t really affect us in the Magistrate Court aside from being able to move those cases into the District Court. (10/20)
  5. So a de novo appeal is what everybody is used to and what everybody has, which is if you are a defendant and you lose in the Magistrate Court, you get a new case and a new trial in the District Court. That’s brand new, everything starts over again. That’s de novo, so it’s new. A Heinsen appeal goes with if the state has an appeal or has a ruling that’s against them or that makes it so that they can’t pursue their case—so like if all of their witnesses have been excluded, or all of their evidence has been excluded—they have the right to an appeal to the District Court, and so those are the differences. (20/20)

Melissa Mascareñas, 56 (40/100)

Mascareñas’ current bid for the bench marks the second time she’s run for the office. In the 2022 primary election, she came in second in the four-candidate race behind Khalsa. Mascareñas applied for appointment to magistrate judge in June 2023 after Khalsa stepped down. She previously worked as a paralegal and chief records manager for the state Supreme Court and environment department, respectively.

Answers:

  1. I think that’s true. (0/20)
  2. I should know this one. Um, I don’t—oh, my goodness—I think they’re one of the ones that didn’t even get a raise. (10/20)
  3. That you have to be over the age of 18, never convicted of a felony—I think that’s it. (5/20) Bonus: There’s not a statute that says they have to be a member of a bar. That’s one of the things that it’s a People’s Court and you do not have to be an attorney. The only time you have to be an attorney is if the size of the population increases such as happened with municipal court. They changed the Municipal Court judge to an attorney position. Right now you do not have to have an attorney license to be a magistrate judge. (10 points) [Voters in March 2008 overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the City of Santa Fe’s charter requiring municipal court judges to be attorneys; the change did not occur due to an increase in population size.]
  4. I’m not sure of that. (0/20)
  5. A de novo appeal is brand new, like a brand new trial. I know that. A Heinsen appeal, I do not know what a Heinsen appeal is. (10/20)
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