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Supreme Court appointee says he will run in general election; Fifth Judicial District Judge Clingman says high court needs ‘geographic diversity’

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Gary Clingman, the Fifth Judicial District judge who Gov. Susana Martinez selected Friday to temporarily fill a seat on the New Mexico Supreme Court, said he will run in the November general election.

Clingman

Clingman will fill the seat vacated by Justice Edward Chavez, who retired last month.

Clingman told the Roswell Daily Record on Monday that while the Supreme Court has ethnic and gender diversity, it lacks geographic diversity.

He said that all of the justices presently serving on the court are from Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and that it has been almost 30 years since anyone from southeast New Mexico has served on the court.

In the early 1990s, Roswell attorney Ken Wilson was appointed to the Supreme Court but lost in the general election. In 1975, then Gov. Jerry Apodaca appointed the late Mark Easley to the Supreme Court, where he was elected to a second term. He retired in 1982 as chief justice.

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Clingman lives in Hobbs and hears cases in Lovington, the county seat of Lea County. Along with Lea County, the Fifth Judicial District covers Chaves and Eddy counties. The economies of the three counties are based primarily in energy and agriculture.

“Rural New Mexico looks at issues differently than Albuquerque and Santa Fe,” Clingman said. “A few years ago, there was a controversy over the continued availability of medical care from Texas that didn’t make the radar in Albuquerque.”

He said that a lot of residents who live in cities in southern New Mexico, like Roswell, Hobbs and Las Cruces, get health care from out of state.

There are five justices on the Supreme Court with Judith K. Nakamura serving as chief justice. Once a judge is elected in a race against other candidates, he or she only needs to run for retention.

Rick Kraft, a local attorney and newspaper columnist, said that over the years it has been hard to get statewide representation on the Supreme Court by attorneys from around the state since one has to move to Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Clingman, a Republican, said if elected he will continue to live in Hobbs and rent an apartment or small place in Santa Fe.

Kraft, who tries cases in the Fifth Judicial District, said he is pleased with Clingman’s appointment.

“It is great that Judge Clingman, after many long years serving the Fifth Judicial District in southeastern New Mexico, has chosen to pursue and been appointed to serve on our state Supreme Court,” he said.

Dianna Luce, Fifth Judicial District Attorney, also supports Clingman’s appointment.

“Gary Clingman is very deserving of this appointment,” she said. “He has served as a trial judge with a very large caseload. He is a thoughtful and well-reasoned jurist. I am extremely proud that he has been selected from southeastern New Mexico to serve on our highest court.”

Clingman said he feels honored to be appointed to the Supreme Court, which is the state’s highest appeals court and sets precedents based on state law.

“I thank the governor for making this appointment and recognizing the need on the court for justices from rural New Mexico,” he said. “I would also like to thank the attorneys and the citizens from Fifth District and look forward to running in the election.”

Martinez’s announcement came a day after a nominating commission said it was recommending she choose between Clingman and New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Michael E. Vigil for the post.

Clingman has been a district judge since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Texas and the Texas Tech Law School.

A former law enforcement officer, Clingman also served his community as president of the Hobbs Boys & Girls Club.

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.

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