Among 18 applicants for a vacancy on the New Mexico Court of Appeals, both were on the short list submitted to the governor.
And, as they told a recent Albuquerque Bar Association forum, they agree that the judiciary needs more resources.
Hanisee, 44, Gov. Susana Martinez’s first appointee to an appellate seat, is seeking to remain in the post in the Nov. 6 general election.
Zamora, 51, a judge for the last seven years in Children’s Court in Albuquerque’s Second Judicial District, is challenging him for the seat.
Hanisee spent nine years as a federal prosecutor in Albuquerque, handling violent crimes, mostly involving children on Indian reservations. He has learned firsthand the stark differences in resources between the federal system, which is busy but well-staffed, and the state system, where shortfalls typically mean judges must do their own legal research without help from a full-time law clerk.
“District judges carry caseloads that are almost unfathomable,” he said. The 10-judge Court of Appeals court regularly sees appeals that lack adequate written support, Hanisee said.
“The absence of human resources in the judiciary has a trickle-up effect,” he said. “When staffing is deficient in district courts, it affects the whole judiciary.”
With improved funding, he says, “we would see increases in the efficiency of justice.”
Zamora sees that at her end of the pipeline. She says she just got a case involving termination of parental rights and is required to set a trial date within two months, and judicial review two months after that. But when a case is appealed, it may wait a couple of years to be decided. That happened in a 2009 case.
“Two years in the life of an adult and the life of a child are very different,” she said. “We need to figure out how to move these cases along” while balancing the constitutional rights of all parties.
Zamora has long been accustomed to doing her own research and handling a rigorous caseload. Last week, she had 27 cases one morning, and 36 the next day.
Zamora’s family includes two lawyer brothers and a lawyer father. When she graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law, she began her career with the family firm in Santa Fe, handling personal injury and wrongful death cases. She and her husband, a doctor and medical researcher, moved to Albuquerque because of his work at UNM, and she moved into a legal niche, handling international adoptions, that quickly boomed.
When the law changed – in part because of lawyers’ advocacy over abuses involved in some countries’ adoption procedures – the boom in international adoptions slowed to a trickle.
Hanisee’s calling card is his appellate law experience.
After earning his bachelor’s degree at Louisiana State University, he attended law school at Pepperdine University in California and had his first appellate experience as a judicial extern for the “eclectically famous” jurist Alex Kozinski, now chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
“It was a really formative experience,” he said. “That job gave me the passion for appellate law.”
Looking for a way to New Mexico – his family had moved here from Louisiana – he worked as law clerk to Oliver Seth of Santa Fe, a judge on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, from August 1994 until Seth’s death in 1996. “I drafted dozens and dozens of opinions for him,” he said. Hanisee’s next post was clerking for Seth’s colleague, Paul Kelly, a 10th Circuit judge in Santa Fe.
As an assistant U.S. attorney after that, he traveled the state to prosecute violent crimes. And when convictions in his cases were appealed, he went to Denver to argue them before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In private practice after that, he said he has represented individual and corporate clients in criminal and civil cases.
Hanisee estimates he’s probably written over a dozen opinions in 14 months on the bench, participated in over 100 cases and is in the process of writing more.
“Our court resolves over 1,000 cases a year. That’s still a lot for 10 judges in a calendar year,” he said.
“These numbers aren’t going to get any better, so we have to figure out a way to handle them, whether I’m a member of the bench or not.”
Hanisee said he likes Zamora and that each is running a clean campaign.
That doesn’t mean Zamora is ready to cede any ground to Hanisee’s experience.
As a children’s court judge, Zamora said, she deals with civil law, immigration law and criminal law.
Since a 1967 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Zamora says, kids have the same constitutional rights as adults to a trial and to counsel.
“I’ve represented plaintiffs, defendants, individuals, government and corporate entities. I’ve argued (appeals) at the 10th Circuit,” she said. In one case, the defense of State Police on a search they deemed domestic terrorism, she wrote a brief asking for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
While it was “a tremendous experience,” Zamora said she was glad she finished ahead of schedule because one of her children promised his school that Mom would make chile-shaped biscochitos for him to bring. “That’s kind of a balancing act,” she said.
“Nobody else has this experience,” she said. “I’ve been doing my own research and writing for 25 years. I’ve been a litigator who laid out issues and preserved the issues. As judge, I still do my own research and writing. I read every single case.”
Questions to the New Mexico Court of Appeals candidates
1. What is your approach to judging?
2. How can you make the appellate courts more accessible to the public?
3. Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?
4. Have you ever been arrested for, charged with, or convicted of drunken driving, any misdemeanor or any felony in New Mexico or any other state?
J. Miles Hanisee
POLITICAL PARTY: Republican
PLACE OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque
EDUCATION: J.D., Pepperdine University School of Law, 1993; Louisiana State University, B.A. 1990.
OCCUPATION: Judge, New Mexico Court of Appeals 2011-2012; private attorney, Law Office of J. Miles Hanisee 2007-2011; Assistant United States Attorney 1996-2007; federal appellate law clerk 1994-1996 for 10th Circuit Judges Paul Kelly and the late Oliver Seth; judicial extern for Judge Alex Kozinski, chief judge, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1992.
FAMILY: Dana Hanisee, 2 children
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Federal prosecutor, 1996-2007
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Prosecution of crimes of extreme violence perpetrated upon women and children.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Father to our 10-year-old twins.
1. Each appeal requires fairness, equality, respect, and adherence to the Constitution and the rule of the law as written. My decisions as a judge reflect my role in hundreds of appellate cases over 18 years.
2. By informing readers that we post our opinions daily on our website, http://coa.nmcourts.gov. Oral arguments are open to the public. Our clerk’s office provides computer access and personal assistance to litigants and the public.
M. Monica Zamora
POLITICAL PARTY: Democrat
PLACE OF RESIDENCE: Albuquerque
EDUCATION: J.D., University of New Mexico School of Law 1987; B.A., business administration, minor in French, Fort Lewis College 1982; diploma, St. Michael’s High School 1979.
OCCUPATION: District Court Judge – November 2005 to Present. Trial attorney, 1987 to 2005.
FAMILY: Husband Richard E. Crowell, two children.
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: I ran as a judicial candidate in 2006 to keep my appointed position as a District Court judge. My experience in government is working as a district court judge and as a former presiding judge, Children’s Court Division.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Making a difference in the lives of children and families in New Mexico.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Raising two great children with my husband while developing and maintaining a successful career in the legal field; running a 10K in under an hour before my 50th birthday.
1. A judge must promote the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, which is fundamental to the public’s faith and confidence in our courts. The facts and laws decide cases, not outside influences or personal opinion.
2. My responsibility is to educate the public on the judiciary and explain the roles of not only the different courts, but the different levels as well. This knowledge empowers the public with alternatives.