Commission recommends ‘do not retain’ for 3 judges

A group tasked with evaluating judges is recommending that voters not retain two Bernalillo County District Court judges nor a third one in southern New Mexico.

They are District 2 Judges Christina P. Argyres and Jacqueline Dolores Flores, and District 3 Judge Lisa Claire Schultz, all of whom scored lower than other judges in their judicial districts.

The report released Friday by the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, recommended that 62 of 72 judges standing for retention be retained by voters.

Jim Hall, vice chair of the JPEC, doesn’t believe the commission’s role is to be a check on the courts, but to provide recommendations for the voters.

“I think we’re very important in giving out information so the voters can make the best decision,” Hall said. “Do I think it’s valuable to the court? Absolutely.”

Seven other judges, including one state Court of Appeals judge, were not evaluated due to the short time they have served on their respective benches.

The JPEC consists of 15 volunteer members from across the state – seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers from diverse professions – all of whom are appointed to staggered terms.

As part of the evaluation process, the JPEC distributes confidential surveys to lawyers, jurors and others who interact with the court, as well as conducts interviews with the judges, sends observers into courtrooms and reviews relevant statistics from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Using nearly identical language, the commission report says attorneys scored Argyres and Flores low for not always being fair and impartial, not always exercising “sound legal reasoning” and for not being sufficiently “knowledgeable regarding substantive law and rules of procedure and evidence.”

They also scored low for not always being courteous to participants and not always demonstrating appropriate demeanor on the bench.

Flores defended her performance in a statement to the Journal.

“I’ve worked very hard to make tough decisions quickly and efficiently,” she said. “I am focused on being a good judge, applying the law in a fair manner, and respecting the rights of both victims and defendants.”

Argyres declined to comment.

In 2015, Argyres made national headlines when she told a first-time offender in court for robbery that he would “probably be raped every day” in prison, before reducing his sentence to five years probation.

In speaking about that incident, Denise Torres, chair of the JPEC, said Friday if a court observer had been present that day, it “might be something that would be in the material (evaluation), but I don’t believe that that was specifically information the JPEC evaluated in her do-not-retain recommendation.”

Attorneys, as well as resources staff, including law enforcement, and probation and parole officers, scored Argyres and Flores low in starting court proceedings on time.

Voters elected Argyres to the District Court bench in 2012, where she presides over criminal cases as well as Veterans Court.

In a commission interview with Argyres, she “expressed a willingness to improve her judicial performance,” the report says, but noted the same issues had been discussed with her in a previous evaluation and she “has not shown improvement in these areas.”

Flores was appointed as a district judge in October 2009 and elected in November 2010.

The JPEC discussed many of these issues previously with her, but according to the report, during an interview for this current evaluation “she did not answer direct questions regarding how she planned to improve her performance.”

Schultz’s scores improved from her prior evaluation, but attorneys still scored her low in starting court proceedings on time, being prompt in scheduling hearings and trials and in “displaying fairness and impartiality toward each side of the case.”

Among court staff, Schultz scored low for “ensuring that her court staff is professional, productive and knowledgeable of court policies and procedures, and for her overall judicial performance.”

Schultz’s scores were generally more positive from resource staff and from a court observer who sat in on her proceedings over two days.

When asked Friday if she thought the recommendation was fair, Schultz reminisced about a case earlier in her career, when she reported allegations of corruption against a senior judge. The judge resigned and pleaded no contest in district court.

“Sometimes memories can be long,” Schultz said. “This is what happens when you buck the system by insisting on integrity from all our judges. I’m proud of my service on the bench and my constant advocacy for justice, fairness and the rule of law,” she said.

Elected as a district court judge in November 2006, Schultz primarily hears family court and mental health cases.

Her do-not-retain recommendation is because of her low scores among attorneys and court staff, “and her failure to recognize and address the deficiencies in her judicial performance,” according to the JPEC report.

District Judges stand for retention every six years and must receive at least 57% voter approval to remain on the bench, as specified in the state’s Constitution.

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