Q: Do you take a judge’s rulings or opinions into account when formulating your evaluations?
A: No. A review of a judge’s rulings or opinions is the responsibility of the Appellate Courts. We focus on a judge’s overall performance on the bench.
Q: Are your evaluations really rigorous? You seem to recommend retaining judges and justices most of the time.
A: Our evaluations are based on the survey results, statistics from the Administrative Office of the Courts (caseloads, excusals, and the time it takes to get cases resolved), courtroom observations in some instances, and on personal interviews with the judge being evaluated. We also take into account the willingness of a judge or justice to take steps to improve any identified areas of weakness.
The surveys are given to individuals who actually come in contact with the judge – other judges, lawyers who have appeared before the judge, court staff and resource staff such as law enforcement, probation and parole officers, and interpreters. We give judges this feedback through interim evaluations, which are not shared with the public, We then work with the judge on a plan for improvement if there are any identified areas of weakness. We survey these groups again before the general election.
NMJPEC takes its responsibility very seriously and does not make a “do not retain” recommendation unless the judge does not improve from his or her interim evaluation to the final evaluation, if his or her scores continue to drop, and/or if he or she does not express a desire or commitment to improve.
Q: If I have a complaint about a judge, would that be taken into account?
A: Complaints should be addressed to a different organization, the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission. That organization can be contacted at:
New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission
P.O. Box 27248
Albuquerque, NM 87125-7248
Q: I want to serve on the NMJPEC. How do I apply?
A: Individuals are nominated by the Governor, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Speaker of the House, Senate President Pro Tem, House Minority Leader, Senate Minority Leader and President of the State Bar. The first step would be to contact one of these individuals to let them know of your interest. The New Mexico Supreme Court makes the appointments to the Commission
Q: Why don't you provide information on candidates who are running for a position as a judge?
A: Our mission is to provide information on judges who are standing for retention – in other words judges who have already been elected to the bench. First-time judicial candidates run in partisan elections where they identify their party. Generally, these candidates have their own websites that provide information.
Q: Does the merit system work? Wouldn’t it be better to have each judge or justice run against an actual candidate in each election?
A: The merit system was enacted with the belief that judges can improve their performance as they gain experience on the bench. JPEC was established to help judges by assessing their performance and helping to develop plans to improve if needed. We regularly review the performance of judges and hold them accountable. Over the years, we believe we have helped improve our state’s judiciary.
Q: Do judges ever retire rather than face a “do not retain” evaluation?
A: We do not comment on any judge who does not stand for retention.
Q: Where does the independent research firm get the lists of people to survey?
A: Those lists are a result of court records. No judge or other individual gets to make recommendations on who should be surveyed.
Q: What happens if you recommend “do not retain” and a judge is still re-elected?
A: We continue to work with that judge on improving his or her overall performance on the bench. We prepare another interim evaluation and issue a recommendation to voters when the judge next stands for retention that reflects his or her performance based on the interim evaluation and a second evaluation before the election.
Q: Why don’t you survey jurors for all judges?
A: Some judges, such as justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges, do not conduct jury trials. Instead, they review and rule on lower court decisions. In the case of these judges, the Commission surveys their judicial peers as well as lower court judges. Also, in order to report survey results, NMJPEC must receive a sufficient number of respondents to provide a valid respond from that particular group.