By Felix Briones, Jr., Chair, New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. September 2004.
Whether you decide to vote early or go to the polls November 2, you should vote in ALL elections for which you are eligible to cast a ballot.
This year, your ballot will include two statewide judicial retention elections. Richard C. Bosson will stand for retention as a Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court and Roderick T. Kennedy will stand for retention as a Judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals.
Both judges are eligible to stand for retention (without opposition) because they previously won a partisan election. Under the New Mexico Constitution, they must receive at least 57 percent voter approval in the coming election to remain on the bench. This constitutional amendment was enacted to allow the state’s voters to retain better quality judges who have more experience, rather than having all judges run in partisan elections.
The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (NMJPEC) was created in 1997 to provide voters with useful, credible information on the performance of judges standing for retention elections. The NMJPEC also conducts an interim evaluation mid-way through a judge’s term of office to help that judge improve his/her performance. The interim evaluation is an overall assessment of the judge’s strengths, weaknesses and plans for improvement, if needed.
This year, we will release an evaluation on one of the candidates, Roderick T. Kennedy. Our rules do not allow for evaluations of judges unless they have served at least two years in their current position because there is not enough statistically valid data to evaluate the judges. We did not evaluate Richard C. Bosson because he has only served on the Supreme Court since December 2002. He served on the New Mexico Court of Appeals prior to being appointed to the Supreme Court.
While the NMJPEC was created by the Supreme Court, it is an independent, non-partisan, volunteer Commission committed to providing objective assessments of how judges are performing. In developing these assessments, we do not believe in forming a recommendation strictly on the way a judge decides specific cases. Instead, we believe in evaluating a judge based on his or her overall performance, including fairness; legal ability; communication skills; and preparation, attentiveness, temperament and control over courtroom proceedings. Taken together, we believe these aspects provide a more balanced view of how a judge is performing in all areas of his or her job.
We gather this information by working with an independent market research firm to survey the people who actually come in contact with the judge, including law enforcement officers, probation officers, psychologists, citizens’ review boards, social workers, Court Appointed Special Advocates, interpreters, jurors, court staff and attorneys with direct experience. For Court of Appeals judges and Supreme Court justices, we also survey trial court judges whose cases have been appealed, law professors and their fellow judges (peers).
This information is carefully reviewed and compiled along with the judge’s self-assessment of his or her performance. We then interview the judge in person and give him or her the opportunity to answer questions and respond to the survey results. The JPEC also presents its narrative to the judge to review the content and for changes to the biographical information. We issue four types of recommendations: retain, do not retain, no opinion (not enough information available) or no recommendation (judge does not have sufficient time in current position).
In addition to providing this information to voters, we hope to encourage more participation in judicial retention elections. For example, in the 2002 New Mexico General Election, 96.1 percent of voters who cast ballots voted in the gubernatorial race, while an average of 73 percent of voters cast ballots in the four statewide judicial retention elections.
This year, we will provide our evaluations to the public on September 17, 2004. Voters can access this information via the Internet (www.nmjpec.org), or call (505) 827-4960.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) said, “We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”
It is only through educating ourselves and voting in ALL races on the ballot that we can ensure we get the type of government and judiciary we need – and deserve.
I hope all New Mexico voters will take as much time as they can to learn as much as they can about every candidate running in an election, whether a judge or another official, whether running in a retention or a partisan race.
Felix Briones, Jr. is a Farmington, NM attorney and chair of the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, a non-partisan volunteer Commission dedicated to improving the performance of sitting judges and providing useful, credible information on judges standing for retention to voters prior to each general election.