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4 ABQ judges should lose seats, panel says

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Metropolitan Court Judge Edward L. Benavidez.(Courtesy Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A commission tasked with evaluating the performances of judges across the state is recommending that voters kick four of the 18 judges in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court off the bench, including the courthouse’s chief judge.

In the coming election, the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission is recommending that voters not retain Chief Judge Edward Benavidez and Judges Michelle Castillo Dowler, Kenny Montoya and Linda Rogers.

“We haven’t had this many ‘do not retains’ in a few years,” JPEC Chairwoman Denise Torres told the Journal. “It’s a very difficult thing for commissioners to do.”

None of the judges in question responded to request for comment left at the courthouse on Friday.

JPEC evaluates judges based on legal ability, fairness, communication skills, preparation and temperament and control over proceedings.

To complete the evaluations, the commission distributes confidential surveys to lawyers, court jurors and others who interact with the court. The commission also interviews the judges, reviews statistics from the Administrative Office of the Courts and sends observers into court.

New Mexico judges who are up for retention must receive approval from 57 percent of voters to keep their seat on the bench.

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., said that historically, judges who JPEC recommends not be retained receive about 12 percent fewer votes than judges who are recommended for retention.

The four “do not retain” judges had different deficiencies, according to JPEC.

In Benavidez’s case, JPEC found he had some of the lowest approval ratings among lawyers and his ratings continued to decrease after he was evaluated by JPEC midway through his term.

“During this final retention evaluation, Judge Benavidez did not fully appreciate the deficiencies in his judicial performance,” JPEC wrote on its website.

Court observers raised concerns about Castillo Dowler’s demeanor and impartiality during court hearings.

In Montoya’s meeting with JPEC officials, he failed to recognize and didn’t commit to try improve his knowledge “regarding substantive law and the rules of procedure and evidence,” according to JPEC’s website.

Linda Rogers scored high in some regards, but attorneys raised concerns about her demeanor on the bench, and her scores among resource staffers, who include police officers, were among the lowest in the courthouse, according to JPEC.

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