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Voters to decide on retaining judges

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

[Note: This post has been updated to correct the last name of a Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission member.]

Local voters have four more days to make decisions about candidates, constitutional amendments and statewide general obligation bonds in the 2020 general election.

District Court Judge James Hudson (Submitted Photo)

Among the issues that voters can decide is whether to retain eight judges with the New Mexico 5th Judicial District Court and an appellate court judge who previously were elected to their positions. Two of the district court judges, James M. Hudson and Dustin K. Hunter, serve primarily in Chaves County courts and have been recommended for retention. The other six district court judges typically serve in Eddy or Lea counties.

In New Mexico, judges for the state Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals and district courts who already have been elected to the bench are not required to run again for the position. But they do face periodic retention elections. To continue to serve, at least 57% of voters must choose to retain them.

To help voters evaluate judges, the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission has been reviewing their performances and issuing recommendations during the past 12 elections. This year, the commission released its reviews on Sept. 10.

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Jim Hall, vice chair of the commission and a retired district court judge, said the judges are making decisions about criminal cases, custody cases, juvenile criminal cases and civil matters, all with far-reaching and significant impacts.

“Judges make decisions that are very important to the parties in those cases, but they also make decisions that are important to the community as well,” Hall said. “So I think it is really important for voters to look at the judges and evaluate them all individually.”

Hudson, the Division 6 judge who also serves as chief district judge, was appointed in March 2013 and elected in November 2014. Eighty-four percent of lawyers responding to confidential surveys recommended his retention, as did 91% of court staff and 88% of resource staff. Resource staff include probation and parole officers, interpreters and others who work with the courts.

District Court Judge Dustin K. Hunter (Submitted Photo)

Hunter was appointed as Division 10 judge in May 2016 and then elected in November 2016. His retention was recommended by 92% of lawyers, 100% of court staff and 73% of resource staff.

Detailed evaluation information, as well as some biographical information, is available on the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission website, www.nmjpec.org.

In addition, District Judges William G. Shoobridge, Division 3; Mark T. Sanchez, Division 4; Jane Shuler Gray, Division 5; Lisa B. Riley, Division 9; and Lee A. Kirksey, Division 11, have been recommended for retention.

Shoobridge, Sanchez and Kirksey typically serve in Lea County. Gray and Riley are assigned to courts in Eddy County.

Division 7 District Judge Michael Harold Stone of Lea County was not given an evaluation because he had served for less than two years when evaluations began. The same is true for appellate court Judge Jacqueline R. Medina, who serves in Albuquerque, and will be on the ballots of many Chaves County voters.

The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission has been evaluating judges for decades. The group also does non-public interim evaluations intended to help judges improve their work.

Since 1997, it has been providing retention recommendations for state district and metropolitan judges by order of the New Mexico Supreme Court. The court order was expanded to include state appellate judges in 1999.

The commission consists of 15 people, seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers, from different areas of the state. In addition to using the confidential surveys, the evaluations also consider caseload statistics and involve interviews with the judges and sometimes courtroom observations.

Local voters also can decide about two other district court judges in Chaves County who are running for the first time for their positions. As previously reported in the Roswell Daily Record, they are unopposed in the general election.

They are Democrats Thomas E. Lilley, appointed as Division 2 judge in April 2019, and Jared Garner Kallunki, named as Division 8 judge in February.

Advance voting is occurring until Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 3.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

To keep up with coverage of this and other 2020 elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.