The state Supreme Court on Thursday denied a petition from local district judge-designate Gina Manfredi to invalidate a Democratic meeting earlier this month that selected someone else as the party’s nominee in November, but she will likely request a rehearing.
Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Manfredi to the new Thirteen Judicial District judgeship in Sandoval County on July 9, following her selection by a judicial nominating commission in June.
The Democratic Party of New Mexico state central committee met July 12 and selected Bernalillo attorney Chris Pérez to appear on the ballot in the general election, rather than Manfredi.
Manfredi filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the state Supreme Court on Wednesday, asking for the action against DPNM and Pérez. She said Friday she would likely exercise her right to file a motion for rehearing within 15 days of the high court’s initial decision.
Pérez said Friday he had no comment on Manfredi’s petition, “other than that I am just going to leave it up to the Supreme Court to determine if there is any merit to it.”
The state constitution, Manfredi noted in her petition to the Supreme Court, states each “district judge … shall have been elected to that position in a partisan election prior to being eligible for a nonpartisan retention election.”
“However, there was no partisan (primary) election because the timing of the vacancy and the subsequent gubernatorial appointment was such that it precluded the appointee (and indeed, any candidate) from obtaining a place on the primary ballot,” she told the Supreme Court.
The state constitution further says all registered voters are “qualified to vote at all elections for public officers,” she added.
Manfredi wrote “35 people (delegates) convened for a state central committee meeting and voted in what amounted to a ‘primary’ election, depriving the public of the right to vote in a public election and usurping the process outlined in the provisions in the New Mexico constitution.”
Local residents should have been given sufficient time to vote for the governor’s appointee, she argued in her brief before the Supreme Court.
She argued “the intent of the constitution was service until the next general election in which there has first been a primary election, not to preserve Petitioner’s right to be a candidate but to preserve the public’s right to vote in a partisan election.”
If the Supreme Court decides to give Manfredi’s petition a second chance, or if it ends up in district court first, either body might consider a possible precedent that, ironically perhaps, involves some relevant family history.
Forty years ago, according to a report in The Gallup Independent, then-Gov. Bruce King appointed George Pérez, the father of Chris Pérez, as a new district court judge in Sandoval County. His term on the bench started July 1, 1974, which meant he did not run in the primary election a month earlier.
“The attorney general’s office has said in a formal opinion that Pérez must stand for election this year despite a directive by the 1974 Legislature that the judge run in 1976,” the newspaper reported on Sept. 19, 1974.
The secretary of state’s office said Friday George Pérez won the votes to keep his district court seat during the general election in November 1974.
The Supreme Court apparently was not convinced by Manfredi’s argument that the DPNM meeting earlier this month, which was not publicly advertised, failed to follow the Open Meetings Act.
“I am confident that what the Democratic Party did, and how we selected our judicial nominees, will stand,” said Sam Bregman, DPNM chairman, in an interview Thursday.