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Incumbent, private lawyer contest seat

Many voters, or at least court watchers, may be familiar with the names on the Democratic primary ballot for the state District Court judgeship that oversees felony cases in Rio Arriba County.

Both Jason Lidyard and Matthew E. Jackson applied for the Division V seat in the 1st Judicial District – which includes Santa Fe and Los Alamos counties, as well as Rio Arriba – when Jennifer Attrep, who had held the position, was named to the state Court of Appeals in January.

Lidyard, who spent the past seven years as a prosecutor in the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office, was recommended by the judicial district’s Judicial Nomination Commission and later appointed to the seat by Gov. Susana Martinez. He’s been on the bench for about four weeks.

Under New Mexico’s judge selection system, Lidyard must stand for election in the first general election after his gubernatorial appointment in order to hold onto his bench. Whoever wins the June 5 primary race between Lidyard and Jackson faces no Republican opposition in the November general election.

Lidyard, 36, said he wanted to be a judge because he was tired of dealing with judges who, he said, did not have enough experience in the courtroom.

“I’ve practiced in jurisdictions where the person sitting on the bench doesn’t have any trial experience, and it’s pretty frustrating as a practitioner when you’re dealing with that,” Lidyard said. “I think that’s probably the main driving force behind wanting to be a judge in this district, specifically dealing with this caseload.”

Lidyard had also applied to take Sarah Singleton’s seat when she retired as the Division II judge last year. Former Santa Fe County Attorney Gregory Shaffer was named to that seat, which primarily handles civil cases, by Gov. Martinez. Shaffer is also running to keep his judgeship.

Lidyard now says it was a good thing he didn’t get the civil court job because he now has the opportunity to handle criminal cases.

“I think it was a blessing, to be honest, to be passed on by the governor for the other position because it’s opened up this opportunity to have a criminal docket, which is something I’m very, very passionate about,” Lidyard said.

Jackson, who now works in private practice, said he wants to get back into public service after working for the attorney general’s office from 2008 to 2013. He also applied for the Singleton vacancy that went to Shaffer.

Jackson said he wants to be a judge because he likes the idea of understanding the letter of the law without having to take the position of a client.

“I really enjoy finding out what the answer is to a legal question,” Jackson said. “I want to know the answers irrespective of what the issues are.”

Although Jackson, whose law firm represents the Journal, admits he has to get “up to speed” on criminal law, he says he has a wide range of experience practicing different types of law.

“I think my opponent is focusing on the criminal side of this docket, but more civil cases are filed in Rio Arriba County,” Jackson said.

Lidyard maintains Jackson is overplaying the civil percentage of the docket and says the makeup is about 75 percent criminal and 25 percent civil. He also said his division was recently assigned all criminal cases from Los Alamos County by the district’s chief judge, Mary Marlowe Sommer.

Whoever wins the seat will primarily hold court at the historic courthouse in Tierra Amarilla. Lidyard said he is holding off on moving up there until after the primary and says he will hold court in Tierra Amarilla Monday through Wednesday, and preside in Española and Los Alamos the rest of the week.

Jackson acknowledged that the 1st District’s Santa Fe-based civil seats generally are considered more attractive because Tierra Amarilla is a good drive from Santa Fe and Española. But that’s not how he sees it, Jackson said.

“TA is a long way off from the population centers of the district,” he said. “I think this position is a bit overlooked. It’s beautiful country up there and the history of the area is so rich.”


Division V District Court Judge Candidates

Matthew E. Jackson

AGE: 44

EDUCATION: J.D. with honors, University of Texas, 2008; B.M. (piano performance, composition), with honors and with honors in the liberal arts, Southern Methodist University, 1996.

OCCUPATION: Attorney

RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: I began my legal career at the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office in 2008 (prior to becoming a lawyer, I was a programmer at Yahoo). In February 2013, I left the AGO for private practice. I have represented the State of New Mexico, businesses and individuals, as plaintiffs and as defendants, in state and federal courts. I have worked on cases involving many different bodies of law, including public lands, payday lending, college savings funds, wrongful death, patents, natural gas royalties, business disputes, professional licensing, insurance coverage, antitrust and open government issues. As an assistant attorney general, I also represented judges, which gave me insight into how they approach their work and issues that can arise, both in civil and criminal cases.

WHY I’M RUNNING: I am running for judge because I want to serve the people of New Mexico. I believe that my skills, breadth of experience and temperament make me the best candidate for the position. If elected, I will work diligently to administer the docket efficiently. I will decide the matters before the court impartially, and I will treat parties, counsel and witnesses with respect and compassion. That respect includes thorough hearing preparation — parties should expect a judge that has read the briefs and the cases. If elected, I will be alert to potential changes to improve the administration of justice, but I am reluctant to prescribe change without first understanding through personal experience the challenges faced from the bench.

BACKGROUND QUESTIONS:

1. Have you or your business — if you are a business owner — ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens? No.

2. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding? I have been outside counsel to parties in bankruptcy proceedings, but I have never been a party, directly or indirectly, to a bankruptcy proceeding.

3. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony? No.


Jason Lidyard

AGE: 36

EDUCATION: Ohio University, B.A.; University of Maine School of Law, J.D.

OCCUPATION: District Judge, 1st Judicial District, Division V

RELEVANT EXPERIENCE: June 2004-July 2007, Colorado General Assembly, legal editor; May-August 2009, Prosecutor’s Office of Cleveland, Ohio, city prosecutor; September 2009-May 2010, District of Maine, federal public defender; April 2011-April 2018, First Judicial District Attorney’s Office of New Mexico, deputy district attorney.

WHY I’M RUNNING: I am running for District Judge of Division V of the First Judicial District Court because Division V handles all criminal cases in Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties, and, as a deputy district Attorney in this jurisdiction for the past seven years, I know how important a capable, considerate and compassionate trial judge is to those cases and for this community.

I started my career at the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office prosecuting domestic violence and DWI cases in the Rio Arriba Magistrate Courts. After the better part of a year in that position, I was promoted to head the narcotics division of the Office. In that role, I was responsible for advising law enforcement agents in their investigations of drug traffickers throughout Santa Fe and the Española Valley, and for prosecuting all criminal cases arising from those investigations.

After three years working narcotics, I was assigned to prosecute sexual assault and child abuse cases occurring in Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties. I served in that position for two years before my last assignment handling general felony cases. Over my career, I litigated over 30 cases before a jury and over 40 cases before a judge. From my experience in these positions, I am intimately familiar with the criminal matters that afflict our community, and my skills and experience as a criminal trial prosecutor lend significantly to my ability to preside over these criminal cases as a trial judge.

BACKGROUND QUESTIONS:

1. Have you or your business — if you are a business owner — ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens? No.

2. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding? No.

3. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony? At the age of 18 years old, I pled no contest to underage consumption of alcohol.

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