Today, the Journal announces its endorsements for the one contested 2nd Judicial District judges race as well as judicial retention in that district and on the N.M. Appeals Court. 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.
2nd Judicial District judge, Division 15
Republican incumbent, Daniel J. Gallegos
While a college student at Notre Dame, Gallegos tore his ACL at a basketball tournament and had surgery in Indiana. His father’s insurance company refused to pay the $25,000 medical bill, so Gallegos fought it with the state insurance board and won. He says that experience showed him the power of the law.
After law school, the Southeast Heights native felt the need to serve his country and became an officer and attorney in the U.S. Navy JAG Corps, with deployments all around the world. He was later appointed to the state Court of Appeals and then to the 2nd Judicial District Court, where he serves as a criminal trial court judge.
Gallegos’ diverse legal and judicial career gives him a strong perspective on the administration of justice in a city plagued with crime. And as a native of one such neighborhood he brings a unique perspective to the bench. “As district judge, I am tough but fair, and I am trusted by first responders who see the devastating effects of crime,” he said in his Journal Q&A.
Gallegos faces Democrat Courtney Bryn Weaks, a judge on the Metropolitan Court, for the Division 15 seat.
2nd Judicial District judicial retentions
New Mexico requires judges who have won a partisan election to stand for retention to keep their seat on the bench. Voters authorized creating a merit selection process for judges in 1988, and the state Supreme Court put a decade of work into creating the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, a well-respected agency that conducts interviews of judges and surveys of prosecutors, defense attorneys and courtroom personnel to evaluate judges up for retention votes. Seventeen 2nd Judicial District judges are up for retention votes. JPEC has recommended voters keep all but two on the bench; the Journal agrees with all recommendations except in Division 20.
William E. Parnall, Division 1
Stan Whitaker, Division 2
Brett R. Loveless, Division 3
Beatrice J. Brickhouse, Division 4
Nancy J. Franchini, Division 5
Cindy Leos, Division 9
Gerard J. Lavelle, Division 11
Clay Pace Campbell, Division 12
Marie Ward, Division 14
Denise Barela Shepherd, Division 18
Benjamin Chávez, Division 19
Alisa Ann Hart, Division 21
Debra A. Ramirez, Division 24
Jane C. Levy, Division 25
Victor S. Lopez, Division 27
Division 20, Judge Jacqueline Dolores Flores
While JPEC does not recommend the retention of Flores, that recommendation is in part based on a low response rate of 11% of resource staff, half of whom said Flores was not fair and impartial, and attorneys who gave her low ratings for exercising sound legal reasoning and her knowledge of law and rules of procedure. JPEC also says Flores did not answer direct questions regarding how she planned to improve her performance.
The Journal Editorial Board subsequently interviewed Flores, who has more than 10 years on the bench, and asked about her performance issues cited by JPEC. Flores said she took on a disproportionate number of detention and preliminary hearings, resulting in an extensive backlog. She said she imposed strict scheduling orders to get through the backlog, upsetting attorneys who weren’t prepared to move forward.
She also noted her low rate of being overturned by upper courts and precipitous drop in excusals requested by attorneys, from 58 in January 2019 to just two a year later. “My excusal rate is very low,” she told the Editorial Board. “It’s down to practically nothing.”
Flores says she’s taken steps to improve, such as being more patient with attorneys and focusing more on written opinions, which give all involved an explanation they can refer to, rather than simply ruling from the bench. Based upon her experience, hard work, progress, self-awareness and willingness to take steps to improve, the Journal recommends her retention.
Do not retain
Judge Christina P. Argyres
JPEC did not recommend the retention of Argyres. Attorneys gave her low ratings for displaying fairness and impartiality, legal reasoning, knowledge of law and rules of procedure, and demonstrating appropriate demeanor on the bench. Attorneys and resource staff also were critical of her punctuality in commencing proceedings.
Argyres did not avail herself of an interview with the Editorial Board, and given no information to recommend otherwise, the board agrees with JPEC’s do-not-retain recommendation.
New Mexico Court of Appeals retention
Retain Judge Jacqueline R. Medina
JPEC said it had insufficient time to evaluate Medina, who was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2018. However, Medina has been a workhorse on the Court of Appeals, bringing to it 16 years of experience as an assistant New Mexico attorney general. The Journal recommends voters keep her on the bench as our appellate judges continue to attack the historic backlog the court faces.
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.