Seven candidates are vying for three seats on the Court of Appeals.
All of the incumbents are Democrats who were appointed to the court by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham within the last two years. The three Republican candidates vying for seats are part of a slate that has promised to put the “law before politics.”
Position 1: Ives, Johnson
Democrat Zach Ives, who was appointed to the Court of Appeals in January 2019, is being challenged by family law practitioner Barbara Johnson, a Republican.
Ives grew up in Albuquerque and graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law. He ran his own law firm before joining the Court of Appeals. He says he has enjoyed the gravity of working on the appeals court.
“So much is riding on your work in every case,” Ives said.” You have people whose lives are going to be impacted. You have to come to work everyday ready to give it your all.”
Ives touts his experience doing appellate work as a private attorney in state and federal court as a reason voters should keep him on the bench.
“I think I have the skills to do this job, and I really care about this work,” Ives said.
Johnson graduated from UNM School of Law when she was 37 and has been practicing family law ever since. It was a goal that started when she was a 12-year-old watching her first trial.
“I was just in awe of the proceeding,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do when I grow up. I’m going to be a lawyer and a judge.’ ”
Johnson said she now wants to take her experience in family law to a judicial position. “I think we should have family lawyers on the Court of Appeals,” she said.
Position 2: Henderson, Lee, Curtis
Shammara Henderson, appointed in February as the first African American to serve on the Court of Appeals, is being challenged by Republican Gertrude Lee and Libertarian Stephen Curtis.
Henderson was born and raised in Albuquerque, went to Valley High School and graduated from the UNM School of Law. She started her career as a prosecutor in the 2nd Judicial District and later became a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In 2017 she started her own law firm, doing criminal defense work and civil litigation.
“Voters should keep me because I have the experience,” Henderson said. “I’ve done tons of trials, I’ve done tons of appeals.”
Lee was born in Shiprock and grew up in Kirtland. She attended Creighton University in Nebraska and later graduated from the UNM School of Law.
Lee started her legal career as a prosecutor in Gallup and in 2016 became the chief prosecutor on the Navajo Nation. She is currently a prosecutor in the 11th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Farmington.
She says serving on the Court of Appeals would give her an opportunity to do something she loves: legal writing and research.
“Me as a person, I love the law,” Lee said. “I would find it very enriching.”
Curtis was raised in Nebraska and earned his law degree from the University of Virginia. He came to New Mexico in 1978 and has been an active member of the state’s Libertarian Party since 1980.
“Libertarians always have a hard time because people are accustomed to voting Democrat or Republican,” Curtis said. “I think that needs to change. I think there needs to be a different perspective in all areas of politics.”
Lee said he would protect constitutional rights if he’s elected to the Court of Appeals.
“The Bill of Rights is under attack,” Curtis said. “I would be supporting people’s rights as set out in the Constitution.”
Position 3: Yohalem, Montoya
Jane Yohalem, the newest member of the Court of Appeals, is running against Albuquerque lawyer Tom Montoya.
Montoya successfully challenged Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver in state district court after Toulouse Oliver argued Montoya did not properly declare his candidacy. Yohalem challenged the district court ruling but the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision.
Yohalem was appointed to the court in June. She grew up in a rural community in New Jersey and has been in New Mexico for over 30 years.
“My whole career really has been appellate work,” Yohalem said. “I think I have a vast amount of experience that will be helpful to the court.”
Yohalem said she challenged Montoya’s candidacy so the Supreme Court could clarify the issue.
“Obviously I would have liked to have won, but I understand they made a ruling of law, and it’s nice to have clarity,” she said.
Montoya said Toulouse Oliver’s actions were “unfair” to him because he did properly file his declaration of candidacy.
Montoya was born and raised in the Albuquerque area and returned after getting his law degree from the University of Southern California and working as a paralegal for the U.S. Department of Justice.
He got a job at a local law firm, Atkinson and Kelsey, when he came back and still practices family law at the firm.
He says the Court of Appeals offers the opportunity to have a greater impact on the state.
“It’s not for the money or benefits,” Montoya said. “It’s for the ability to have a greater influence.”