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Second Judicial District Court

Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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On September 17, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention met to sign the document they had spent the previous four months drafting.

That document, the U.S. Constitution, outlines the basic structure of our nation’s government. The first three articles of the constitution identify three co-equal branches of government with separate and distinct powers and responsibilities.

The Constitution outlines the separation of powers: the Legislative branch makes law; the Executive branch executes the law; and the Judicial branch interprets and applies the law.

September 17th of each year is designated Constitution Day in acknowledgement of the day our current government was formed. This year, as we mark the 231st anniversary of the Constitution’s signing, we should reflect on the true role of what is commonly referred as the third branch of government—the Judiciary.

The framers of the constitution sought to make the Judiciary an independent branch of government that could go about its work of interpreting laws and settling legal disputes without having to consult members of the other branches of government—or survey public opinion—before making decisions. The desire to keep the Judiciary free from such influences is why U.S. Supreme Court Justices—once appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate—serve life terms.

By contrast, State Court Judges do not serve life terms. They typically are elected to the bench and face retention elections every six years. Still, they are fair and impartial arbiters of the law, carrying out their duties without regard to political whim or popular opinion.

Differences between Branches of Government

Members of the executive and legislative branches, at both the federal and state levels, regularly interact with lobbyists and members of special interest groups. They also are likely to review public opinion polls and news stories when deciding what position to take on a particular law or policy. The members of those branches of government are elected to represent the public; they require public input to do that properly.

The Judiciary plays a different—but very important—role in our Constitutional form of government.

The Judiciary is not a political or representative branch of government. Its duty is to uphold the law, and make decisions in accordance with the law, even when those decisions go against popular opinion. Judges resolve disputes based on the law and the facts presented in individual cases.

The Judiciary also is the branch of government that protects the civil rights and liberties granted to all citizens within the Constitution. Part of that job is ensuring that the other branches of government recognize the limits of their powers.

Sometimes, making an unpopular decision will cause members of the public to label a judge a liberal or a conservative. In extreme cases, as we have seen recently in New Mexico, judges have been threatened with bodily harm by people who disagree with their decisions.

Judges know they are bound to follow the laws of the land—the U.S. and State Constitutions, as well as state and federal laws. They also must adhere to rules of court procedure and a judicial code of conduct, which strictly forbids letting personal feelings enter into their decision making.

William H. Rehnquist, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice stated: “A Judge is bound to decide each case fairly, in accord with the relevant facts and applicable law, even when the decision is not the one the home crowd wants.”

That is exactly how the framers of the Constitution expected judges to behave when they laid out the structure of our current form of government 231 years ago. The framers, in essence, charged the Judiciary with protecting our constitutional rights. We should remember that not just on Constitution Day, but every day.

 

 

Constitutional Day 2018 - .PDF Version


Veterans Court Team Takes up Challenge to Help Prevent Suicides

Members of the Second Judicial District Veterans Court team took up Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s challenge to help prevent suicide among service members, veterans and their families.

The group staffed a table to conduct outreach to veterans during the event that took place on Tuesday, September 4, 2018 at Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza. “We just want to let the public know that there is a Veteran’s Court,” said Calvatrina Kinsel, a pre-trial services officer for Veterans Court. “A lot of people don’t realize this is an option. We are providing information about the court. We also have referral forms that people can fill out to find out if they are eligible to participate in the Veterans Court program."

The Second Judicial District Court launched the Veterans Court program in November 2011, with a goal of rehabilitating—instead of incarcerating—veterans charged with certain felony-level crimes. More than 60 individuals have successfully completed the program. The vast majority of those individuals have never commit another crime.

The court started the program because judges realized that many of the veterans appearing in court were dealing with substance abuse and/or mental health issues that very likely were underlying causes for the behavior that led to their arrest.

Upon acceptance into the program, participants are supervised by the District Court’s Judicial Supervision and Diversion Programs unit. Staff members from that unit guide participants through the program’s five phases, all of which include some level of treatment tailored to the individual veteran’s needs.

The program seems to work well for veterans because much of the therapy and counseling is done in-group settings, which allows veterans to form bonds and support one another in much the same way they did as part of military units. 

The Veterans Court team also works with individuals from other agencies, including the District Attorney’s office, which much sign off on defendants entering this program rather than face immediate prosecution. Final dispensation on the defendants’ cases comes after they complete the 18- to 24-month program. Defendants who fail to complete the program go back to regular court for prosecution of their cases.

Camila Lopez, an outreach worker with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, joined the Veterans Court Team at the Mayor’s Challenge event. She goes into jails to look for inmates who would be viable candidates for Veterans Court. To enter to the program, a veteran must be willing to undergo the rigorous counseling the program requires, as well as meet other eligibility requirements.

Defendants charged with violent crimes resulting in death or great bodily harm, sexual offenses, crimes against children or a 5th DWI are automatically excluded from the program.


Representatives of the Second Judicial District Court and the City of Albuquerque recently traveled to Ohio -- Butler County in southwestern Ohio and Summit County in northeastern Ohio, to observe two established court-ordered outpatient treatment programs. The programs are designed to assist people with serious mental illness (who have not been charged criminally) transition out of hospitals and back into their communities with the support and services they need to take an active role in their recovery and avoid repeat hospitalizations or incarcerations.

The Albuquerque delegation got an in-depth look at how the Ohio programs work, from observing court hearings and meeting with judicial staff, to visiting an inpatient psychiatric center and speaking with members of a treatment team.

“With New Mexico’s recent enactment of assisted outpatient treatment legislation, it is important that we have this opportunity to observe how other state courts have implemented court-ordered treatment programs,” said Second Judicial District Judge Beatrice Brickhouse.

“It was extremely helpful to observe both the court’s role in this process and the actual interactions between the Judge and the participant. In Ohio, the judge’s engagement with the participants clearly supports the individual’s recovery,” said Ellen Braden, Division Manager for Behavioral Health and Wellness, Department of Family and Community Services.

The Second Judicial District Court, in partnership with the City of Albuquerque and the UNM's Health Psychiatric Center, will launch its pilot assisted outpatient treatment court this fall.


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.


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 www.nmkidsmatter.org.



​Archived News

Service Dogs Graduate From Training Program

The Second Judicial District Court was well represented when Assistance Dogs of the West held its recent graduation ceremony.

The Santa Fe-based organization trains service dogs. That includes the service dogs that are part of the Veteran’s Court program, where military veterans who are facing criminal charges can help train dogs that in turn are sent to assist wounded veterans in other parts of the country.

Two veterans who successfully completed the program this year also participated in ADW’s graduation ceremony along with their dogs. They were Norm Landry and his dog, Yahtzee, and Luis Sandoval and his dog, Hamlet.

Also graduating were Ginger Varcoe, a program supervisor for the Veteran’s Court, and Zeus, her two-year-old Labradoodle.

Participants in the Veteran’s Court dog training program must enter a plea to a felony charge. Candidates are screened for eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Those accused of violent crimes, sexual offenses, crimes against children and other conditions are ineligible.

District Judges Christina Argyres and Stan Whitaker adjudicate the cases in Veteran’s Court.

Congratulations to our program participants and their graduating dogs!

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