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Second Judicial District Court

Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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The Second Judicial District Court would like recognize Judge Elizabeth Whitefield, who passed away on August 11, 2018.

Judge Whitefield retired from the Family Court bench in 2016, but she continued to serve the Court in a volunteer role—doing everything from presiding over hearings to processing paperwork—until just before her death.

Judge Whitefield displayed that level of commitment to service throughout a long and distinguished legal career that began with her graduation from the UNM School of Law in 1977.

While making her own mark in the legal profession, Judge Whitefield also helped open many doors for other women lawyers. She specialized in family for nearly thirty years, first with the late Willard F. (“Bill”) Kitts and then with the law firm of Keleher & McLeod, where she became the first female shareholder and first female member of the Executive Committee. She also was one of three co-founders of the New Mexico Women’s Bar Association.

Judge Whitefield’s legal work and community service earned her many awards, including:

•    The UNM School of Law Distinguished Achievement Award in 2015
•    The Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Service Award in 2016
•    The Albuquerque Bar Association Outstanding Judge of the Year Award in 2016
•    The Justice Pamela B. Minzer Professionalism Award from the State Bar of New Mexico in 2017.

Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Judge Whitefield to the District Court bench in 2007.  Her family law background served her well on the Family Court bench, as she looked for ways to improve the court’s operations. Along those lines, Judge Whitefield was instrumental in establishing the court’s Peter H. Johnstone Day, an annual event at which couples without legal representation can resolve their cases through free mediation sessions with volunteer attorneys. The Court launched Peter H. Johnstone Day in 2012, and just this year alone more than 50 couples resolved their cases at that event.

Current Family Court Judge Deborah Davis Walker said Judge Whitefield’s legacy is that she “was always looking for a better way to help people get through the system without putting their kids in the middle. She was a proponent of mediation and facilitation and just resolving cases in a more reasonable way.”

Chief Judge Nan Nash said of Judge Whitefield, “she loved the law, she loved being a judge and she loved the District Court.”

The District Court staff also loved Judge Whitefield, and she will be sorely missed. A Memorial Service for Judge Whitefield will be on Friday August 31, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. at Albuquerque Country Club 601 Laguna Blvd SW, Albuquerque, NM 87104.


(Denver, Colo.) – The Honorable John J. Romero, Jr. of the Second Judicial District Court, Children's Court Division in Albuquerque, N.M. was sworn in as 2018-2019 president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) at the NCJFCJ 81st Annual Conference. He is the first president representing New Mexico in the organization’s 81 years.

"The NCJFCJ has been fortunate to have Judge Romero's active influence in addressing domestic child sex trafficking issues and the collaboration of Tribal and state courts," said Joey Orduna Hastings, NCJFCJ CEO. "Judge Romero's knowledge of the judiciary, his compassionate dedication to the children and families he serves and represents, and his ability to lead and engage his fellow judges makes him an exceptional leader of the organization."

Judge Romero has served as a member of the organization for 14 years, with six years on the Board of Directors. Judge Romero has served on numerous NCJFCJ committees including Governance; Military; Juvenile Law; and Family Violence and Domestic Relations. Judge Romero also served on the steering committee of the NCJFCJ’s Enhanced Resource Guidelines: Improving Court Practice in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases. He is also the lead judge for the NCJFCJ’s National Judicial Institute on Domestic Child Sex Trafficking, which has educated more than 425 judicial officers nationwide to better identify children at risk of child sex trafficking, and encourage judicial leadership to help improve outcomes for victims.

"The Second Judicial District Court is honored to have Judge John Romero serve as the President of the NCJFCJ,” said Chief Judge Nan Nash, Second Judicial District Court, New Mexico. "Judge Romero's lifelong work, dedication and compassion have helped improve the lives of countless children and families in New Mexico. He will bring that same enthusiastic leadership to the NCJFCJ."

He was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on the Sex Trafficking of Children and Youth in the U.S. last year, a committee that advises the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the attorney general on practical and general policies concerning improvements to the nation’s response to the sex trafficking of children and youth in the U.S., as outlined in the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014.

Judge Romero is Co-chair Emeritus of the Children’s Court Improvement Commission, a past member of the New Mexico Tribal-State Judicial Consortium and remains involved with the Tribal-State Judicial Consortium. He is a national educator on issues related to juvenile justice and child welfare and was the first judge in the country to be recognized as a certified Child Welfare Law Specialist by the American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited National Association of Counsel for Children. In 2014, Judge Romero received the Alice King Public Service Award. Judge Romero is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law.

"In leading the NCJFCJ, Judge Romero will bring the same compassion and commitment for improving juvenile justice courts that he has shown during his 15 years as a judge working tirelessly to do what is best for young people and families in our state," said New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura.

About the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ):
Founded in 1937, the Reno, Nev.-based National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, is the nation’s oldest judicial membership organization and focused on improving the effectiveness of our nation’s juvenile and family courts. A leader in continuing education opportunities, research, and policy development in the field of juvenile and family justice, the 2,000-member organization is unique in providing practice-based resources to jurisdictions and communities nationwide.

Four students recently gained invaluable experience through summer internships at the Second Judicial District Court—and they all said their positive experience at this Court convinced them to continue pursuing careers in the legal profession.

"Internships provide students with a tremendous opportunity to gain a broad understanding of the legal system and a front row seat to district court proceedings in civil, criminal, family and children's court cases. Working as a judicial extern can be very interesting, allow for a great deal of interaction with a district court judge and is highly beneficial to career development," said Chief Judge Nan Nash.

Two of the summer interns are University of New Mexico law students who said their judicial externship at the Court might have helped them decide what type of law they choose to practice after graduation.

"An externship at SJDC is ideal for law students looking to become familiar with all facets of a dynamic, bustling trial court. Externs will learn things not taught, or even mentioned, in the classroom, and will connect with mentors who are dedicated to students’ success in the legal profession," said Brent Chapman, who is set to begin his second year at the University Of New Mexico School Of Law. Chapman worked on substantial research projects under the supervision of Elizabeth Garcia, General Counsel, that helped strengthen his writing skills, which has been demonstrated by Chapman's recent selection for UNM Law Review. Chapman said conversations with Presiding Family Court Judge Debra Ramirez inspired him to consider specializing in family law.

Other great opportunities include interacting one on one with judges and observing hearings in the various divisions of the Court. Hayden Wickens is also set to begin his second year at UNM Law School. He spent his summer interning in the Court’s Criminal Division, specifically with the Hon. Cristina Jaramillo, where he did legal research and observed a number of significant trials and hearings. "I learned a great deal," he said. "When I started law school, I was thinking about civil and property law, but seeing the process in action really impressed me. Now, I am leaning toward practicing in criminal law."

A Career Road Map

The Court’s other summer hires were Christa Street, who is entering her senior year at the University of Montana and Feliz Ruiz, who will soon begin her sophomore year at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and Alamogordo High School. They both aspire to careers in the legal field as well.

Street, who is majoring in Political Science and Spanish, spent her summer working in the Court’s Family Division. "This has been a great experience for me, seeing how the court functions," Street said. "It solidified my desire to go to law school. I hope to come home to attend UNM Law School, which has a great program for immigration law, which is the area in which I hope to practice."

Ruiz wants to be a court reporter upon finishing school. She spent the summer assisting the Court Reporters and Court Monitors Division. She said the experience has been positive, and has helped her understand what she needs to do to succeed in her chosen field. "In my sophomore year, I will be taking Spanish and starting my journey to becoming bilingual," she said. "I also will continue working on my typing and listening skills."

"Externships provide students an invaluable opportunity to get on the ground training and reconnect with the personal and professional purpose for pursuing a legal career," said Professor Quiana A. Salazar- King, Director of Career Strategies at UNM School of Law.

For internship opportunities at the Second Judicial District Court, contact the Human Resource Division at 841-7432. Minors must have parental permission. Click this link for Second Judicial District Court Volunteer/Intern application.

ALBUQUERQUE – Anyone with questions about how to get a REAL ID driver’s license should attend the free legal fair on Saturday, July 21, 2018. 
A host of professionals—from attorneys and judges to representatives from the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division and the Bureau of Vital Records—will be on hand to help visitors navigate the REAL ID process.

By October 1, 2020, anyone wishing to board an aircraft or enter a federal facility where an ID is required must have a driver’s license or ID card that complies with provisions of the Federal REAL ID Act of 2005. Obtaining a REAL ID requires presenting a specific set of documents verifying one’s identity. 

The REAL ID Legal Fair will run from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Saturday July 21, at the Barelas Community Center, 801 Barelas Rd., SW, Albuquerque, NM 87102. Anyone seeking help should bring the appropriate identification documents. A list of acceptable documents is available on the Motor Vehicle Division’s website

The event’s primary sponsors are:

  • The Second Judicial District Court’s Pro Bono Committee
  • The New Mexico Legal Aid Volunteer Attorney Program
  • The City of Albuquerque, and 
  • The University Of New Mexico School Of Law.

“We’re hosting this fair because we know people are still having trouble understanding what is required to obtain a REAL ID,” said Shannon Bacon, Presiding Judge of Second District Court’s Civil Division, and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee. “The required documents must meet certain specifications, such as all listing names exactly the same way. That can present problems for many people, such as women who changed their names when they married. In New Mexico, this also affects a number of older citizens of Hispanic descent who were forced to Anglicize their names as school children, and now do not have documents that match the names on their birth certificates.”

Some people in these situations either need to go through the process of legally changing their names or having a new birth certificate issued. Experts at the REAL ID Legal Fair can help determine if any of those steps are necessary. They also will be able to provide assistance in completing those steps. 

The professionals at the fair will provide the following services:

  • Identify the documents needed for each individual
  • Review documents brought to the Fair to ensure they meet REAL ID requirements
  • Inform individuals if they need additional documents 
  • Assist in filling out REAL ID application forms
  • Provide referrals for legal representation in court, if it is required.  

For individuals who have all of the required documents, New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division staff will be able to issue REAL IDs on the spot. Others should leave the fair with a clear understanding of what steps they need to take to obtain a REAL ID within a reasonable amount of time.

“We know this process can be complicated. As members of the Court, we are trying to make it easier,” said District Court Judge Clay Campbell, who also is on the Pro Bono Committee. “We are grateful to all of the organizations that are partnering with us for this REAL ID Legal Fair. This is a valuable community service, and we encourage anyone who has not yet secured a REAL ID to come out on July 21. That October 2020 deadline is getting closer every day.”


On Tuesday, May 22, 2018, members of the Second Judicial District’s Specialty Court Programs participated in Mental Health Awareness Day on Civic Plaza, sponsored by Bernalillo County, the City of Albuquerque, and the Bernalillo County Government Commission in recognition of May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Approximately 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition. “Our specialty courts make a difference in the quality of life of its participants by providing a coordinated systems approach that protects public safety through the use of supervision, treatment and accountability,” said Chief Judge Nan Nash. “These programs are effective, improve access to appropriate services within the mental health system, and have greatly reduced recidivism across the county and the State of New Mexico.”

Kelly Bradford, Director of SJDC Judicial Supervision and Diversion Programs, highlighted the importance of this event: “It provided an opportunity for the general public and community providers to connect with our specialty court programs that serve to help people overcome issues that may be barriers to success in the community.”

The Second Judicial District’s Speciality Court Programs have an outstanding record of providing support, supervision and accountability to participants. The following Specialty Treatment Courts are offered:

  • DWI Court
  • Veterans Court
  • Mental Health Court
  • Young Adult Court
  • Drug Court
  • Native American Healing to Wellness *
  • Family Reunification Drug Court
  • Juvenile Drug Court

“This event has grown over time since it started three years ago with over 60 organizations participating, and demonstrates that our community is dedicated to increasing awareness of mental health and to working collaboratively with partners on solutions that benefit us all,” Bradford said.

Later this summer, the Second Judicial District Court will be launching its first civil specialty court – Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) in partnership with the City of Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Hospital and Bernalillo County. AOT is court-ordered treatment for individuals with serious mental illness who are experiencing repeated hospitalizations or incarcerations, and who have had difficulty with adhering to their treatment. According to Lisa Schatz-Vance, AOT Program Manager, the new court will begin as a pilot program with the University of New Mexico’s Psychiatric Center.

“The AOT Court will focus on early intervention to improve outcomes for individuals with critical mental health issues and provides a less restrictive opportunity to ensure individuals with serious mental illness do not suffer a break in their continuity of care,” said Ms. Schatz-Vance.


* A specialty track available through Drug Court in partnership with the New Mexico Corrections Department.

Jerome Sanchez and Zachary Apodaca graduated from the Second Judicial District DWI Court Program on April 11, 2018, and based on the program’s track record, there’s almost no chance either of them will face DWI charges again.

"Since its inception in 2013, our program has had 35 graduates—counting Jerome and Zachary—and not a single one of them has re-offended," said Anthony Rudulfo, the Court’s DWI program manager.

That statistic is especially impressive considering all of the defendants referred to the program are facing felony charges as repeat DWI offenders. Once they have been screened and approved, all participants must agree to adhere to rules of the program, which takes a minimum of 24 months to complete.

Judge Jaqueline Flores presides over all DWI Court cases. She said the program works because it requires participants to undergo intense treatment that "gets to the emotional root of their drinking problem."

The treatment includes a heavy dose of group therapy that starts with each participant writing a story about their relationship with alcohol and reading that story aloud to the rest of the group. Judge Flores believes this type of therapy helps program participants develop a sense of community and accountability that makes them want to stick with their individualized treatment plans.

"Most of our participants are good people," Judge Flores said. "They just happen to have a problem with alcohol. Once they get a handle on the alcohol problem, they can become the people they were meant to be." That seems to have been true for Apodaca and Sanchez.

Apodaca said his drinking was a way of self-medicating to deal with anxiety issues he had battled since childhood. A car accident led to the DWI charge that landed him in the program, where he finally discovered he could manage his anxiety without relying on alcohol or any other substance. Having completed the program, Apodaca is looking forward to life with a new wife and daughter.

Sanchez credited the program with saving his life. "I hated the program when I started, but it has been the best thing for me," he said. "I slowly started to trust the process, and one day something in me changed. I realized that I didn’t have to identify with being a screw up anymore, and I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever it took to make it through."

Sanchez and Apodaca both thanked people who started the program before them for serving as peer mentors, and encouraged those still in the program to do the same for any newcomers.

The Second Judicial District Court kicked off Mother’s Day weekend by celebrating adoption proceedings that produced 31 new families.

The event took place on Friday, May 11, 2018, marking the second year the district court has kicked of Mother’s Day weekend by celebrating adoptions.

“We have always held these events on National Adoption Day in November, and we will continue to do so, but we thought we should do more to promote the idea of moving children out of foster care and into permanent homes,” said Marie Ward, Presiding Judge of the Second District Court’s Children’s Division. “The Friday before Mother’s Day is the perfect time to make that statement.”

The district court adoption celebration took place at the John E. Brown Juvenile Justice Center, 5100 Second St. NW, Albuquerque, NM  87107.

The families had completed all the paperwork to make their adoptions legal before arriving at the courthouse on May 11. These families were truly celebrating what for them had long been a dream in the making.  

The day started with remarks from Secretary Monique Jacobson of the New Mexico Children’s Youth and Families Department, who said she wanted to be there because CYFD shares the court’s goal of finding ways of getting more foster children into the “forever homes.”

The formal adoption proceedings followed those remarks. Then, it was time for family activities like making arts and crafts, having cake and refreshments—and of course sharing hugs and smiles.

Caption for adoption_day_2:

Presiding Children’s Court Judge Marie Ward, far left, shares a happy moment with some of the new families that celebrated the court’s Pre-Mother’s Day Adoption Event.


Children Youth and Families Department Secretary Monique Jacobson will be on hand for Second Judicial District Court’s Pre-Mother’s Day Adoption Event on Friday, May 11, 2018.

This is the second year that Second Judicial District Court has kicked off Mother’s Day weekend by celebrating adoptions. This is part of the court’s ongoing effort to focus attention on the more than 100,000 children in the state’s foster care system who would prefer being in permanent loving homes.

“We have always held these events on National Adoption Day in November, and we will continue to do so, but we thought we should do more to promote the idea of moving children out of foster care and into permanent homes,” said Judge Marie Ward, Presiding Judge of the Second District Court’s Children’s Division. “The Friday before Mother’s Day is the perfect time to make that statement. We are pleased that Secretary Jacobson has agreed to join us this year. ”

Twenty-two children were adopted at the first Pre-Mother’s Day event in 2017. Most of those children had spent time in foster care; some had lived in multiple homes and attended several different schools.

An adoption is the creation of a legal relationship between a new parent and a child, similar to that of a biological parent and child. Children in foster care who cannot be safely reunified with their biological families are adopted after the parents’ rights are voluntarily or involuntarily terminated. Adoptees who have not been involved in the child protection system are adopted by a step-parent, a relative or other appropriate family carefully selected by birth parents prior to a voluntary adoptive placement.

All of the paperwork to make an adoption legal will have been completed by the time the children and their new parents arrive at the courthouse on May 11. A judge will then issue an order declaring the process complete. The families will then celebrate the occasion. The deadline for submitting paperwork to the court is Friday, April 27, 2018.

For information on submitting paperwork, contact the following individuals:
•    For Judge Marie Ward, contact Marisa Salazar at 841-7392
•    For Judge John Romero, contact Daniel Sanchez-Saenz at 841-7311
•    For Judge William Parnall, contact Julie Parras at 841-7602.

The celebration will include a short ceremony that will include remarks from Secretary Jacobson and other dignitaries. There also is sure to be a lot of hugging and picture taking.

The festivities will take place at the John E. Brown Juvenile Justice Center, 5100 Second St. NW, Albuquerque, NM  87107.


Couples facing family law issues—such as s divorce, child custody and timesharing—without the assistance of attorneys have a chance to settle their cases free of charge at the Second Judicial District Court’s Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se Pro Bono Mediation Day.

On Friday, April 20, 2018, roughly 65 to 70 family law attorneys will be at the Second District Courthouse serving as volunteer mediators for couples who want to resolve their difference through negotiation rather than litigation.

The Second District Court has been hosting Pro Se Pro Bono Family Law Mediation Days since at least 2012.  Peter H. Johnstone, a family law attorney in Albuquerque, was one of the early organizers, and the events were named in his honor following his death in 2013.

On average, 65% of the couples participating in these events reach a full settlement of their cases by the end of the mediation session. Typically, an additional 10% to 15% reach at least a partial settlement.

“It’s always better—especially when children are involved—for couples to resolve issues on their own terms, rather than have solutions forced on them by the court,” said Judge Debra Ramirez, Presiding Judge of Family Court. “We are fortunate to have attorneys in our community who are willing to help couples who cannot afford legal representation find creative ways of resolving their cases.”

“Our goal is to resolve these cases on Peter Johnstone Day, and we usually do. A few cases get reset, but even with some of those we find this process helps get them on the path to a solution,” said Torri Jacobus, Director of the Court’s Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution.

There two requirements for couples wishing to participate in a Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se Pro Bono Mediation event:

•    Neither party can be represented by an attorney.
•    They must be referred by the Family Court.

Couples can be referred to the event by submitting a request to the judge presiding over a current case, or by making the request when opening a new case. The Court’s Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution can provide information for how to submit those requests.

The Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution is located on the first floor of the Second Judicial District Courthouse at 400 Lomas Blvd. NW, in Albuquerque. The Center is open 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Monday through Friday.

The Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution can be reached by telephone at 505-841-6702.


“A View from Gold Mountain” is the name of the sculpture to be installed on the west side of the Second Judicial District Courthouse to recognize the Asian American community’s historical relationship with the justice system.

The Asian American Monument Committee unanimously chose this work by the artistic team of Cheryll Leo-Gwin and Stewart Wong after a final round of judging this past January.  The Bernalillo County Commission, which is overseeing funding for the project, gave its approval for the county manager to execute a contract with the artists in late March.

The  monument committee had put out a nationwide call for a piece of art to reflect the Asian American community’s experiences interacting with the legal system, starting with the landmark case of the Territory of New Mexico v. Yee Shun. That 1882 case was the first in which testimony from an Asian American was considered valid in a United States court of law.

The ruling was somewhat bittersweet for members of the Asian community. On one hand, the ruling by New Mexico Supreme Court acknowledged that Asian Americans could take and abide by an oath to tell the truth when testifying in court—even if they adhered to a non-Christian religion. Previously, U.S. courts had only recognized oaths taken by practicing Christians as valid for giving legal testimony.

On the other hand, the testimony given by an Asian American was the most important piece of evidence leading to the murder conviction of Yee Shun, who many historians now believe was innocent.  Yee Shun was sentenced to life in prison for a murder that took place in Las Vegas, New Mexico on February 24, 1882. Shortly after hearing the appeal of his conviction had been denied, Yee Shun committed suicide in his cell in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been transported to serve his sentence.

The monument committee asked artists to consider this historical context when creating the work they would propose installing outside the district courthouse.  The winning team said they considered this history in not only creating their work, but in naming it as well.

Seeking the Pot of Gold 

“During the Gold Rush, people in China called America the Gold Mountain. They came to America to seek their fortunes and find the pot of gold to send or take home,” the artists wrote in the proposal accompanying a model of their work.  “Immigrants from other regions also came to that Gold Mountain for similar reasons. Instead, like Yee Shun and the Chinese, because of their skin color, culture or other differences, they found hardship, starvation, death and disillusionment. The pot of gold was more often than not only an elusive dream.”

Since its selection for installation outside the courthouse, Leo-Gwin and Wong’s sculpture has garnered much positive attention, including recognition in a national online magazine dedicated to the arts.

Despite these hardships, immigrants from Asia and elsewhere persisted and built lives for themselves and their families. Over time, the judiciary and other branches of government came together to offer these citizens a measure of justice and equality. 


The New Mexico Supreme Court has appointed Second Judicial District Court Judge C. Shannon Bacon, Chair, and Judge Nancy Franchini, Vice-Chair, of a committee charged with implementing steps for improving the state’s adult guardianship system.

The committee is comprised of members from all three branches of state government, including Sen. James White of Albuquerque, who sponsored the newly enacted legislation, and Rep. Damon Ely of Corrales, the bill’s co-sponsor.

The new law, Senate Bill 19, was passed during the 2018 legislative session and takes effect on July 1, 2018. It will revamp the state’s guardianship system by opening court hearings that historically have been closed and giving family members more access to court records in guardianship cases.

In addition to making the guardianship process more transparent, the new law allocates $1 million for the courts to develop processes for better tracking and management of guardianship cases. The steering committee will advise the New Mexico Supreme Court on priorities for funds appropriated by the Legislature for guardianship reforms.

“Judge Bacon and Judge Franchini are natural choices for leadership roles on this committee,” said Chief Judge Nan Nash of the Second Judicial District Court. “When legislation for reforming the guardianship system was introduced, Judge Bacon and Judge Franchini took the lead in helping legislators understand how changes to the law would impact New Mexicans and the judiciary’s role in the guardianship process.”

“I am honored to be a part of a team tasked with the very important job of reforming our state’s guardianship system,” said Judge Bacon. “The new law is aimed at increasing transparency, establishing safeguards for protected persons, and allowing greater involvement of family members in guardianship proceedings. This committee will put together concrete, actionable recommendations to the Supreme Court on establishing priorities for guardianship reforms, statewide review of guardianship and conservatorship cases, and ensuring comprehensive oversight of the guardianship system.

“I am pleased about this appointment and looking forward to meeting with the representatives of the three branches of government, implementing the key objectives of this new legislation and evaluating the recommendations of the New Mexico Adult Guardianship Study Commission,” said Judge Franchini.

The New Mexico Supreme Court also appointed Judge Bacon and Judge Franchini to serve on a separate committee to recommend changes in rules governing court procedures in guardianship and conservatorship cases.

Cassie & Judge WardOne of the most recognizable faces at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Justice Center belongs to Cassie, a 6-year-old Labrador retriever.

Cassie interacts with families, especially those with children, who need her friendship. When a girl is called to testify about traumatic abuse or neglect, Cassie might sit at her feet to provide solace. Or Cassie might stay with a sobbing boy who has just been separated from his parents after being placed into protective custody.

"Cassie provides great comfort in the courtroom and gets smiles from everyone she meets when she is in the building," Children’s Court Judge Marie Ward said.  "She is a silent companion who has a way of removing the edge from very difficult situations."

Cassie has been a presence at the Juvenile Justice Center since late 2013. She is a specially-trained Courthouse CASA dog, a name that is derived from the acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Cassie was purchased using a grant by New Mexico Kids Matter, the CASA program in Albuquerque. CASA believes that every child who has been abused, neglected or is in foster care deserves to have a dedicated volunteer advocate speaking up for them in court.

"We are very fortunate to have Cassie, both as a resource and as a friend," Judge Ward said.  "She brings a lift to everyone she meets and she is especially valuable to the children who need her most."

Cassie was trained by Assistance Dogs of the West, a Santa Fe-based accredited service dog organization that also provides service dogs for the Veterans Court program. Courthouse dogs have been used around the country since 2003.

For more information about CASA please visit

​Archived News

New Space For Family Court Proceedings

A new courtroom has opened at the Second Judicial District Court, expanding the space available for Family Court proceedings.

“Bernalillo County’s funding of the new courtroom is vital to the Second Judicial District Court’s Family Court because it enables them to continue doing what they do best: resolving matters involving families and children in a fair, equitable and accessible forum,” said Chief Judge Nan Nash.
Previously, SJDC Family Court judges shared space in three courtrooms on the second floor.  While the new courtroom is available as needed for any proceeding, it will be utilized primarily by Family Court District Judge Debra Ramirez, who  is assigned to the domestic violence seat. The Family Court Division also uses hearing rooms for divorce, child custody and child abuse cases.
Bernalillo County, as landlord of the Courthouse, graciously provided funding and personnel to complete the work, which was sorely needed to meet complex caseloads in Family Court. The Court is very grateful to County Manager Julie Morgas Baca and staff from the Bernalillo County Facilities Management Department for their efforts to complete the work.
Contractors on the project included Anchorbuilt, OGB, P&M Caseworks, Floor Tech, Harrison Contracting, Simplex Grinnell, Miller’s Insulation, Sound and Signal, Studio Southwest Architects, TLC Plumbing and Heating, Glass on Wheels, Wilson and Co.,  Sandia Safe and Lock and Security & Access. Vendors included Pat’s Doors and Summit Electric Supply.

Judge Ramirez Courtroom


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