2016: Want a Say In New Mexico's Judges? VOTE.

jpec logo 2016 New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission
Contact: Patti Watson, CWA Strategic Communications
(505) 245-3134 direct office; (505) 269-9691 cell
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Mario Sanchez, CWA Strategic Communications
(505) 245-3138 direct office; (505) 850-5000 cell
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Want a Say In New Mexico's Judges? VOTE.

By Denise Torres, Chair and James Hall, Vice Chair
New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission

When you cast your vote in this year's general election, you'll have the opportunity to decide whether one Supreme Court Justice and three Court of Appeals judges stay on the bench by voting to retain or not retain. These elections, which are typically near the bottom of the ballot, probably involve individuals you've never heard of and know nothing about. Furthermore, you may not know how to assess whether or not they have been doing a good job.

There is a place you can go for information -- the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (NMJPEC). NMJPEC was established by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 1997 as a nonpartisan volunteer commission to make recommendations to voters on judges standing for retention. Under our state's constitution, judges who win a partisan election then go on to stand for retention. To stay on the bench, they must receive 57 percent voter approval.

NMJPEC is made up of 15 volunteer members from throughout New Mexico, including seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers, who spend hundreds of hours conducting evaluations. We use an objective, carefully-monitored process to evaluate the overall performance of judges standing for retention in four main areas:

  1. legal ability
  2. fairness
  3. communication skills
  4. preparation, attentiveness, temperament and control over proceedings

Confidential surveys are distributed by an independent research firm to people who have regular contact with the judges, such as lawyers, court staff, and other judges. We also meet with each judge to review the results of the independent surveys and his or her self-assessment of performance.

In addition to the evaluations we make public to voters during general elections, JPEC has another important goal: improving the performance of our state's Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, District Court judges and Metropolitan Court judges.

To accomplish this, we also evaluate each justice or judge mid-way through his or her term. The purpose of those evaluations, which are not made public, is to help our state's judges improve their performance by providing an objective assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. As needed, we also help them develop a plan for improvement.

This year, we are recommending voters RETAIN all four judicial candidates standing for retention:

Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Vigil
Court of Appeals Judge Tim L. Garcia
Court of Appeals Judge Jonathan B. Sutin
Court of Appeals Judge M. Monica Zamora

All of these candidates received high marks from attorneys, court staff, appellate judges and district court judges. Information on how we reached our recommendation on each justice or judge, along with their educational background and experience, is on our website -- www.nmjpec.org. Individuals can download a summary voter's guide or call 1-800-687-3417 to request a voter's guide by mail.

While we are pleased that all of our recommendations are positive this year, NMJPEC does not always recommend that voters retain judges. If a judge consistently gets low rankings or fails to improve in areas identified as weaknesses, we recommend voters do not retain that judge. Since NMJPEC began making recommendations in 1999, we have made "do not retain" recommendations to voters in nine specific instances. Of those "do not retain recommendations, five judges were not retained by voters.

Traditionally, only two to three out of every four voters who cast a ballot in the presidential election go on to vote in judicial retention elections. You have a say in who is a judge in New Mexico and the quality of our state's judiciary. Please take the time to go all the way through the ballot and vote in all elections for which you are eligible -- including the judicial retention elections. Make your voice heard and know that your vote counts.

Denise Torres is an attorney in Las Cruces. She has been a member of JPEC 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 JPEC since 2009 and was appointed Vice Chair in 2011.

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