Submitted by Denise Torres, Chair New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission
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On this year’s ballot you will see two statewide judicial retention races and seven Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court races. Under New Mexico law, judges must receive 57 percent voter approval to continue in their current positions.
You may never have heard of these individuals or come in contact with them, so how do you decide whether they should stay on the bench? The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC) was established in 1997 as a volunteer, nonpartisan commission to provide useful, credible information to voters on judges standing for retention.
JPEC uses an objective, carefully monitored process to review their performance in four main areas: 1) legal ability; 2) fairness; 3) communications skills; and 4) preparation, attentiveness, temperament and control over proceedings. These four areas are based on the American Bar Association professional definition of what constitutes a “good judge.”
To measure a judge’s performance, JPEC works with an independent research firm to send out confidential surveys to individuals who have come in contact with that judge, including other judges, attorneys, court staff and resource staff, such as law enforcement officers.
We also review statistics from the Administrative Office of the Courts on the judge’s caseload, excusals (reason a judge is excused from hearing a case), recusals (reason a judge is disqualified from hearing a case) and the time it takes cases to get resolved.
JPEC conducts at least one personal survey with each judge being evaluated – two interviews when time permits — to share the survey results, address any areas of improvement and assess their overall performance.
Not all voters take the time to vote in judicial retention races. On average, somewhere between one and two out of every five voters who cast a ballot in the “top of the ticket” race such as president or governor fail to vote in judicial retention elections.
You should you vote all the way through the ballot because these judges make important decisions.
The Supreme Court is the court of last resort with superintending control over all inferior (lower) courts and attorneys licensed in the state. This court has mandatory appellate jurisdiction over criminal matters in which the sentence imposed is life in prison or the death penalty, appeals from the Public Regulation Commission, appeals from the granting of writs of habeas corpus (demonstrating a valid reason for a person to be legally detained), appeals in actions challenging nominations and removal of public officials.
The Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in New Mexico, with mandatory jurisdiction in civil and non-capital criminal and juvenile cases.
The Metropolitan Court is a court of limited jurisdiction and jury trials. This court hears specific types of cases including tort (an act or omission that gives rise to injury or harm and amounts to a civil wrong), contract, landlord/tenant rights ($0-10,000), felony first appearance, misdemeanor, DWI/DUI, domestic violence and other traffic violations.
This year, we are recommending voters retain New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Michael E. Vigil and all seven Metropolitan Court judges standing for retention — Rosie Lazcano Allred, Vidalia Chavez, Maria I. Dominguez, Jason Jaramillo, Brittany Maldonado Malott, Jill M. Martinez and Christine Rodriguez.
JPEC was unable to evaluate New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Jane B. Yohalem and make a recommendation to voters because of the time frame of the evaluation, the rules governing JPEC’s evaluation process and New Mexico legislation on judicial retention terms. Judge Yohalem was elected to the Court of Appeals in November 2020.
We encourage every single voter to get the information they need to make an informed decision. For information about JPEC and our evaluations, visit www.nmjpec.org or call 1-800-687-3417.
Your vote and your voice are important. Please vote all the way through the ballot this year, including the judicial retention races.
Denise Torres is Chair of the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission and has been a member of JPEC since 2008. She is a sole practitioner in the Law Firm of Denise Torres, LLC, specializing in providing mediation services throughout the state and in other areas of the country.