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Kallunki tapped to fill vacancy as district judge

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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday named Roswell attorney Jared Kallunki to fill a vacancy on New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District Court in Chaves County.

An attorney with the Public Defender’s Office in Roswell and president of the Chaves County Bar Association, Kallunki will occupy the Division VII seat in the 5th Judicial District. The seat was held by Kea Riggs who resigned in December when she was sworn in as a federal judge on the U.S. District Court of New Mexico.

Kallunki said he found the appointment to be humbling and an honor.

“It feels good, but I know there are a lot of people who need to feel confident in justice, and so there is a heavy responsibility. So I feel like I need to work hard and live up to the trust that has been placed in me,” he said.

Kallunki said he does not know when he will be sworn in, but thinks it will happen in a few weeks.

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A Democrat, Kallunki will have to run in November to retain his new job for a full six-year term. The position pays an annual salary of $133,757, according to the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts.

Kallunki, 44, was the only person who applied for the position with the Judicial Selection Office. A bipartisan 15-member Judicial Nominating Commission at a Jan. 29 hearing voted to recommend his appointment to the governor. The state Constitution allots the governor 30 days from the time of the nominating commission’s hearing to either appoint the recommended nominee or request more candidates for the post. 

Born in Indiana, Kallunki was the son of an Army colonel and spent his childhood in both Europe and Utah. He holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from the University of Alabama. Kallunki in 2007 graduated from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego with a Juris Doctorate.

Kallunki moved to Roswell and was admitted to the New Mexico Bar in 2008. He went to work for New Mexico Legal Aid from 2008, then practiced general and civil law at his own firm, Kallunki Law, beginning in 2012 and served as the assistant city attorney until 2014.

Since 2017, Kallunki has worked for the public defender’s office. He is married to Tiesha Kallunki with whom he has three children.

Last March, Kallunki applied for the opening on the bench created by the retirement of Judge Freddie Romero in Division II of the 5th Judicial District. The names of Kallunki and Thomas Lilley were recommended to Lujan Grisham for appointment, who then chose Lilley for the seat. 

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