Editorial: Journal announces endorsements for NM Supreme and Appeals courts

Today, the Journal announces its endorsements for the New Mexico Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals. For more information, including previously published endorsements, candidate Q&As, district maps and news stories as they are published, go to the Albuquerque Journal’s 2020 election guide at ABQJournal.com/election2020.

Justice of the Supreme Court, Position 1
Democratic incumbent, Shannon Bacon

Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court in January 2019, Bacon served on numerous commissions and committees, including chairing the Supreme Court’s Adult Guardianship and Conservatorship Steering Committee. Even before her appointment, Bacon advocated for enhanced transparency and accountability in the traditionally closed adult guardianship system. She told the Journal Editorial Board the closed system was easy to abuse and that secrecy in government and the courtroom is not good, and that there is more work to be done in training lay people, getting banks involved, and ensuring corporate guardians and conservators are nationally certified.

Bacon has pushed for all New Mexicans to have better access to their courts, and she says a silver lining in the pandemic has been the live-streaming of oral arguments that “pulls back the curtain” on court proceedings.

As a state district court judge in Albuquerque for almost a decade, Bacon presided over thousands of cases. Her breadth of experience in “how the record is made” gives her extensive insight into lower court cases and serves her well on the Supreme Court.

She faces Republican Ned S. Fuller for the Position 1 seat on the Supreme Court.

Justice of the Supreme Court, Position 2
Republican Kerry J. Morris

As his humorous TV spots show, Morris has no business on the basketball court. But with nearly 40 years of legal experience, Morris is well-qualified for the Supreme Court.

Morris told the Editorial Board he is a problem-solver first and a litigator as a last resort. He says he seeks the “least drastic deal” at his family law practice in Albuquerque and his description of himself as a “peacemaker lawyer” is refreshing to hear from an attorney.

Morris also says the courts have become politicized, with judges legislating from the bench. He says the courts should not be determining matters that should be decided by lawmakers, such as the state Supreme Court’s decisions this year on evictions and garnishments. On his watch, “we’re going to apply the law as written,” he told the Editorial Board.

Morris, as a Republican, offers the Supreme Court some needed diversity in philosophy and thinking. The political balance of the court has historically been to the left, and the pending retirement of the Supreme Court’s only current Republican, Justice Judith Nakamura, makes balancing the court with a new Republican that much more important.

Morris faces Democratic incumbent David K. Thomson for the Position 2 seat.

Judge of the Court of Appeals, Position 1
Democratic incumbent, Zach Ives

Ives, appointed to the Court of Appeals in January 2019, says he is committed to reducing the court’s historic backlog, which had been escalating for nearly a decade. Clearing it is critical to the administration of justice. Ives is the shot in the arm the Court of Appeals needs.

“As a judge, my greatest accomplishment has been contributing to the successful effort by the entire Court of Appeals to address our backlog,” he said in his Journal Q&A. “This has involved a great deal of work over an extended time by many people. With a heavy caseload and limited resources, it is very challenging to keep the cases moving while ensuring that each one gets the thorough and careful treatment it deserves. I believe I have responded to that challenge well.”

Prior to his appointment, Ives was in private practice in New Mexico for 17 years and has a rich litigation background handling a wide variety of cases in state and federal courts. He also says he’s open-minded and that judges latching onto political philosophies is not good. “I have a deep commitment to applying the law fairly to all people, businesses and government entities,” he said in his Q&A.

Ives faces Republican Barbara V. Johnson for the Position 1 seat.

Judge of the Court of Appeals, Position 2
Republican Gertrude Lee

Lee, a former chief prosecutor for the Navajo Nation, would be the first Native American judge on the Court of Appeals. The Kirtland resident offers a unique perspective as a Navajo trial attorney with experience in both state and tribal courts. She says working with victims of violent crime, domestic violence and crimes against children – while supervising 10 lawyers across the Navajo Nation – was a major accomplishment of her professional career.

Now, she says she wants to be a trailblazer. “I’ve never seen anyone like me run for a position like this,” she told the Editorial Board. “It was the right time.”

Currently a senior trial attorney with the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office, Lee says her personal views have no place in her decision-making. She’s part of the GOP slate of judicial candidates who are running on a platform of putting the law before politics. Her diversity of thought and Native background would be of great service on the Court of Appeals. “My strength is my ability to bring a different perspective to the court as a Navajo trial attorney born and raised in rural New Mexico with experience in both state and tribal court,” she said in her Journal Q&A.

Lee faces Democratic incumbent Shammara H. Henderson, who became the first African American on the Court of Appeals when she was appointed to the Position 2 seat in February.

Court of Appeals, Position 3
Democratic incumbent, Jane B. Yohalem

Yohalem is new to the Court of Appeals, having been appointed in June, but she brought more than 30 years of appellate experience as a private-practice attorney in Santa Fe. “I have represented people in every corner of New Mexico and in almost every area of the law,” she said in her Journal Q&A. “My career began as a civil rights lawyer representing children with disabilities. I have represented indigent families in termination of parental rights cases for many years.”

Yohalem told the Editorial Board she does not believe the state’s judicial system is inherently unfair to people of color, but she correctly said we can always do better.

Prior to her appointment, Yohalem was the legal counsel in over 400 appeals, advancing the law of New Mexico, and becoming a member of the prestigious American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.

She represented state lawmakers in a long-simmering dispute with former Gov. Susana Martinez after the former governor vetoed 10 different bills that had passed the Legislature. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously in April 2018 that Martinez did not follow proper constitutional procedures because the former governor either took too long to act on the bills or did not provide an explanation with each vetoed bill.

“That was a great case to do,” Yohalem told the Editorial Board.

Yohalem faces Republican Thomas C. Montoya for the Position 3 seat.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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