Gavel Grab

JAS Applauds Creation of New Judgeships in New Mexico

Justice at Stake applauded on Wednesday New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez’s signing legislation that creates five new judgeships.

“These new judgeships in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Hobbs, Bernalillo, and Las Cruces are a step toward restoring the vitality of New Mexico’s court system, which has suffered from limited resources in recent years,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement. “With this action, the Governor demonstrates her understanding that when justice is delayed by backlogs or not enough sitting judges, it hurts people and businesses seeking resolution of a dispute, and forces individuals to put their lives on hold.”

Martinez earlier signed a $6.2 billion state budget, according to the Albuquerque Journal, while deleting more than $27 million sought Read more

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Commentary: Bills Would Bolster New Mexico Courts

Bills passed by the New Mexico legislature  would add five new judgeships and help residents get court decisions more quickly, and also would increase salaries for underpaid judges statewide, the New Mexico State Bar president writes in an Albuquerque Journal commentary.

Erika E. Anderson also mentions three bills that would strengthen the state retirement plan for judges and magistrates.

Regarding all of the measures she discussed, Anderson appeals for the governor to sign them and concludes: “Taken together, these bills will help strengthen New Mexico’s judiciary, which, in the end, benefits the thousands of New Mexicans who find themselves in our courts every year.”

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Judge: Funding Increase for New Mexico Courts is Needed

New Mexico’s court system urgently needs five new judges to deal with spiraling caseloads, and it is important for the legislature to ignore politics and deal with facts in considering a funding boost, Judge Alan M. Malott (photo) of the 2nd Judicial District writes in an Albuquerque Journal op-ed.

Judge Malott adds his voice to a rising debate over the appropriate funding level for New Mexico’s courts in fiscal 2015. You can learn background and details from Gavel Grab. According to Judge Malott, a decade-old study recommended adding the five judges statewide, and caseloads have only increased much more since then.

“The executive branch has proposed no budget increase for the judiciary,” Judge Malott adds, and that effectively would amount to a budget cut. He concludes, “As a simple matter of fact, denying reasonable funding for judicial operations and reasonable compensation for our judges is just politics.”

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Editorial Supports Increased Funding for N.M. Courts

New Mexico courts — and the citizens they serve — deserve a “bigger slice” of the “state government funding pie” when legislators finalize the next budget, an Albuquerque Journal editorial said.

Gavel Grab mentioned earlier that a Legislative Finance Committee proposal would increase funding for the state courts by $6.7 million, but Gov. Susan Martinez is advocating merely a $1.3 million increase. The editorial called the LFC proposal reasonable and elaborated this way:

“And it’s important to note this isn’t really about funding the courts. It’s about funding the services the courts provide to the thousands of New Mexicans who find themselves in the judicial system every year – and the public that counts on the system to determine guilt, innocence and punishment designed to protect the rest of society.”

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Legislature, Governor Square Off Over N.M. Court Funding

New Mexico’s bipartisan Legislative Finance Committee is urging a $6.7 million increase for funding state courts — a hike of 4.5 percent — but Gov. Susana Martinez says that’s way too high and the increase should be $1.3 million, or less than 1 percent.

Referring to the courts, state Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Democrat, told the Albuquerque Journal, “This is one of the few branches of government that stepped to the plate and said we’ll find ways to try and make this system work during the most difficult times (of the recession). And we have some catching up to do.”

A spokesman for the governor’s office, on the other hand, said other public agencies got lesser increases in recent years than did the courts, and the courts should now take a back seat. Read more

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Another Try Ahead for Update to Public Financing in New Mexico?

In April, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed legislation intended to update a voluntary system of public financing for elections of appellate court judges (see Gavel Grab). Now advocates for public financing say they are making headway in addressing the governor’s concerns about the legislation’s constitutionality.

“We have answered her concerns, and are working to gain her support,” Viki Harrison, executive director for Common Cause New Mexico and Tam Doan, research director for Public Campaign, write in an Albuquerque Journal op-ed. Public Campaign and the national Common Cause organization are Justice at Stake partner groups.

The vetoed legislation was drafted in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, from 2011. The high court struck down a provision in Arizona’s law that furnished extra taxpayer dollars to participating candidates when privately funded foes or independent groups spent more. It was called a “trigger funds” provision.

The legislation was intended to set up a small donor matching system. Under it, candidates who participated would have gotten an initial public financing grant and after that, would have received a 4-1 match for donations of up to $100.

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N.M. Court: Right for Non-English Speakers to Serve on Juries

The New Mexico Supreme Court declared in ruling on a criminal case that non-English speaking citizens have a right to sit on juries.

According to an Associated Press article, the opinion advised lawyers and judges of a “shared responsibility to make every reasonable effort to protect the right of our non-English speaking citizens to serve on New Mexico juries.”

In the case at issue, the high court said, a trial court’s dismissal of a prospective juror violated a guarantee in the constitution that a New Mexican’s right to hold office, vote or sit on a jury can’t be limited ”on account of religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish languages …”

According to the 2012 Census, New Mexico has a greater percentage of Hispanic residents than any other state, with 47% of residents identifying as either Hispanic or Latino.

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Since 2008, New Mexico has had an optional public financing system for candidates running for the state Supreme Court and appeals court. However, an article from ABQ Journal reports the majority of judicial candidates choose to run instead on contributions from private lobbying firms and lawyers—a choice that has inspired concern in light of the new American Constitution Society study linking campaign contributions to judicial rulings.
  • Rich Robinson, founder of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, released a report last month that examined the role of “dark money” spending in the state’s 2012 political races. According to the Windsor Star, the report shows that spending in the state’s judicial elections was particularly abundant, with $5 million in disclosed spending and $13.58 million in undisclosed “issue-oriented” TV advertisements.
  •  Four members of the commission that nominates candidates for Arizona’s appellate court have requested that the state Supreme Court throw out a recent law that requires the commission to nominate five candidates for every judicial vacancy. An editorial for the Republic argues that the law should indeed be thrown out, mainly because it dilutes the strength of Arizona’s merit selection system and encroaches upon the independence of the judiciary branch.
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Retired NM Judge Pleads No Contest to Misdemeanor

The Associated Press reports that retired New Mexico District Judge Michael Murphy who was accused of four felony counts in 2011, including bribery, pleaded no contest last week to misdemeanor misconduct charges.

Murphy was previously indicted on charges that he gave $4,000 to former Gov. Bill Richardson to win appointment to the state bench (see Gavel Grab).

The article says Murphy’s case shocked the judiciary two years ago, and Richardson called the accusations of funneling money from judicial candidates “outrageous and defamatory.”

Murphy entered a plea deal that dismissed the four felony charges, the article says.

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Governor Vetoes Update to NM Public Financing Law

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed legislation intended to update a voluntary system of public financing for elections of appellate court judges.

Martinez said the measure’s constitutionality was uncertain, according to an Associated Press article, and urged an overhaul for New Mexico’s hybrid system in which judges seek election in a partisan contest after they have been appointed to the bench.

“We need a broad, ground-up reform of the entire judicial election system,” she wrote in a veto message. “We have the unusual procedure of using a bi-partisan judicial nominating commission process with an immediate open partisan election system. I encourage the Legislature to consider broadly reforming our election system when it comes to judges and am willing to address the issue of public-financing reforms in that overall context.”

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