New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission
By Denise Torres, Chair, New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission
James Hall, Vice Chair, New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission
Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."
It's easy to decide not to vote in elections where you don't know much about the candidate. This is particularly true in elections where judges are standing for retention. After all, they typically don't have a website, they're not out campaigning, and they don't even have an opponent. Unless you know the judge or have been in their courtroom, you are not even likely to recognize their name.
That's where the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (NMJPEC) can help. In 1997, the New Mexico Supreme Court created NMJPEC to provide useful, credible information to voters on judges standing for retention. These judges have won a partisan election and have been on the bench for at least two years. By state law, judges standing for retention must receive 57 percent voter approval to remain on the bench.
NMJPEC is made up of 15 members, including seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers. We use an objective, carefully-monitored process to evaluate the overall performance of judges standing for retention in four main areas:
- legal ability
- communication skills
- preparation, attentiveness, temperament and control over proceedings
Confidential surveys are distributed to people who have regular contact with the judges. NMJPEC also receives statistics from the Administrative Office of the Courts for individual judges regarding caseloads, excusals, and the time it takes to get cases resolved. Sometimes we also send court observers to personally observe and comment on the judge’s actions in court.
We conduct evaluations for each judge twice. Mid-way through his or her term on the bench, we conduct a confidential evaluation for the purpose of helping the judge assess their performance and identify any areas that need improvement. A second evaluation is done before the general election to see if the judge has made improvement in any areas of weakness identified earlier, and also to again assess his or her overall performance.
NMJPEC continues to believe the vast majority of judges strive to consistently improve their overall performance. We take our obligation seriously and issue "do not retain" recommendations only when judges receive continuing low scores among surveyed populations or fail to acknowledge that there is a need for improvement in their performance.
This year, NMJPEC makes the following recommendations to voters:
New Mexico Court of Appeals (Statewide)
Retain Honorable J. Miles Hanisee, New Mexico Court of Appeals
Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court (Bernalillo County)
Retain Judges Henry A. Alaniz, Rosie Lazcano Allred, Vidalia G. Chavez, Rosemary Cosgrove-Aguilar, Maria I. Dominguez, Sandra Engel, Yvette K. Gonzales, Jill M. Martinez, Daniel E. Ramczyk, Christine Eve Rodriguez, Frank A. Sedillo, Renee Torres, Victor E. Valdez, and Courtney Bryn Weaks.
Do Not Retain Judges Edward L. Benavidez, Michelle Castillo Dowler, Kenny C. Montoya, and Linda S. Rogers.
Full details on evaluations of all of these judges are available at www.nmjpec.org. Printed information is available by calling 1-800-687-3417.
NMJPEC has done its part to provide education on the judges standing for retention statewide and in Bernalillo County. Now it’s up to you. Please take the time to go all the way through the ballot you are given and vote in all elections for which you are eligible – including the judicial retention elections. You ultimately decide whether these judges stay on the bench. Make your vote count.
Denise Torres is an attorney in Las Cruces. She has been a member of NMJPEC since 2008 and was appointed Chair in 2011. James Hall is a former district court judge in the 1st Judicial District who now practices law in Santa Fe. He has been a member of NMJPEC since 2009 and was appointed Vice Chair in 2011.