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Commission recommends local attorney for judgeship

Jared Kallunki sits before the 5th Judicial District Nominating Committee during a public hearing Thursday in the Historical Courtroom at the Chaves County Courthouse. (Alex Ross Photo)

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A judicial nominating commission voted Thursday to send the name of Roswell attorney Jared Kallunki to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for appointment to fill a vacancy on New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District Court.

The 14 voting members on the 5th Judicial District Nominating Commission, made up of a bipartisan collection of judges, attorneys and community members, voted unanimously to forward Kallunki’s name to Lujan Grisham for consideration.

“I appreciate the confidence the commission placed in me by finding me qualified and I look forward to talking to the governor further about it,” Kallunki said after the vote.

Kallunki, 44, was the only person to apply for the Division 8 position in the 5th Judicial District Court, following the Dec. 31 resignation of Judge Kea Whetzal Riggs, who resigned after she was appointed and then sworn in as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

Lujan Grisham has 30 days to decide whether to appoint Kallunki or reconvene the commission to ask for additional applicants.

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If appointed, Kallunki, a Democrat, will have to run for election in November to retain the position, something he has said he intends to do.

Speaking to the commission before the vote, Kallunki said he is motivated to become a judge because of his commitments to both his community and the rule of law. He added it is important to have a judiciary that exemplifies calm and contemplation and administers the laws.

He said he thinks fulfilling that mission is something he can do given the examples he has had in his professional life, from mentors such as Riggs, who he said leaves “big shoes to fill.”

At the start of the hearing, several people attested to Kallunki’s intellect, integrity and work ethic.

Debra Lautenschlager, managing attorney for the New Mexico Public Defender’s office and Kallunki’s boss said they hate to see him leave his current job, but believes having him on the bench will be beneficial to the community.

She added Kallunki will bring with him to the bench a diverse background in terms of legal expertise, but also compassion for those who come before him as well as victims of alleged crimes.

“He has compassion for everybody and I think that is an important quality to have in a judge,” Lautenschlager said.

Kallunki holds both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in political science from the University of Alabama. He graduated in 2007 from Thomas Jefferson School of Law with a Juris Doctorate.

Kallunki was admitted to the New Mexico State Bar in 2008 and moved to Roswell the same year. He worked as an attorney for New Mexico Legal Aid from 2008 to 2012, then practiced general and civil law at Kallunki Law from 2012 to 2016. He was secondary city attorney from 2012 to 2014.

Since 2017, Kallunki has been an attorney in the Law Offices of the Public Defender in Roswell. In March, he applied for the Division II seat on the New Mexico 5th Judicial District following the retirement of Judge Fredrick Romero.

The nominating committee at the time forwarded the names of Kallunki and Thomas Lilley to Lujan Grisham for consideration, but Lilley was selected for the position.

Kallunki is married to Tiesha Kallunki with whom he has three children.

During Thursday’s meeting, commission members asked few questions as it related to Kallunki’s qualifications.

“They know Mr. Kallunki and his qualifications and his demeanor, and I think they all considered that he would do a good job,” said Tom Jennings, a member of the commission.

Jennings added such consensus is important on the commission when sending a nomination to the governor.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

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