Focus on the Judiciary: Vote for Democracy in Our County Courtrooms

By Lance Chilton

Bernalillo County voters will encounter a lengthy list of judicial candidates on the November ballot – 15 positions in all. But it’s not as daunting as may appear: Nine of those 15 are unopposed, leaving two NM Supreme Court justices, three Court of Appeals Judges, and just one district court judge with opposition. Opposed or un-, all of the 15 excellent Democrats running for judicial positions need your vote. 

New Mexico judges are appointed by the governor from a list generated by a bipartisan nominating commission when a vacancy occurs. Then, in the next general election, they must run for the office they’re holding, often with opposition from the other party.  Once voted in, via a partisan election, they then have to be “retained” with 57% of the vote in an unopposed ballot in 6-year increments. This year:

  • Metropolitan judges David Murphy, Felicia Blea-Rivera, Jason Jaramillo, Brittany Maldonado Mallott, and District Court judges Joshua Allison, Amber Chavez Baker, Erin O’Connell, Lisa Chavez Ortega, and David Ramczyk are unopposed, and all deserve your vote.
  • Five of the candidates who have opposition  — all are recently appointed incumbents — are Supreme Court Justices Shannon Bacon and David Thomson, Appellate Court Justices Shammara Henderson, Zack Ives, and Jane Yohalem.Judge Courtney Bryn Weaks seeks to move from Metropolitan Court to District Court, replacing a Republican incumbent who was one of the last appointees from Governor Susana Martinez.

Emphasis on Background. Brian Morris is campaign manager for nearly all of the Democratic judicial candidates, and I spoke with him recently about how they go about campaigning for office. Judicial candidates cannot say how they’d be ruling on given cases or even categories of cases (e.g., abortion, consumer protection, white-collar crime). Mr. Morris believes this gives them an advantage in allowing candidates to talk instead about themselves, their personal stories, and their careers.  Voters can make choices based on how these Democrats spent their lives before they became judges. For example:

  • Supreme Court Justices Bacon and Thomson have devoted a large proportion of their careers to public service.  
  • Judge Ives has practiced at every level in our state and federal courts, including serving as a guardian ad litem, representing some of the most vulnerable people in New Mexico.
  • Judge Henderson is the first Black person to serve on a New Mexico appellate court and would be the first Black woman elected to state office in New Mexico.

With the statewide judicial races, all five of the opposed Democratic candidates for judicial positions have been vetted by the judicial nominating commission, which does not apply to most of their Republican opponents.  They have shown their commitment to the community and have earned the trust of the community through their volunteer work, sitting on community boards, and representing clients on a pro bono basis.

Visit our DPBC website to see a listing of all these deserving candidates and more, up and down the ballot, at https://bernalillodems.org/candidate-focus-2020//

Or go directly to these candidates’ websites: keepjusticebacon.comkeepjusticethomson.comkeepjudgeives.com, and keepjudgehenderson.comwww.JaneforJudge.com 

Editor’s Note: The NM Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission was created by the NM Supreme Court to provide voters with useful, credible information about judges standing for retention. The Commission’s 2020 evaluations are available at https://nmjpec.org/en/archives/2020and also through the NM League of Women Voters along with judiciary candidate questionnaires https://www.lwvnm.org.