More than 20 federal probation officers and U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo walked across downtown last month to take in the movie “Lincoln” as part of a leadership training program.
Chief U.S. Probation Officer Anita Chávez said attending the movie as part of the work day was her idea and she has no apologies.
The tickets cost $102 and the supervisors make in excess of $50,000 a year.
“It was part of a leadership training program for supervisors,” Chávez said in an interview. “We walked to the theater. We didn’t take government cars.”
Chávez said she had the approval of Judge Armijo, who became Chief U.S. District Judge in September and accompanied the probation officers and Chávez to the film.
“We fly under the radar and having time with the chief judge is a morale booster,” Chávez said. “She spoke to us after we came back to the courthouse about what we learned.”
Armijo, in a telephone interview, said she thought it was “tremendously worthwhile.”
“We had a very good dialogue with the managers and supervisors after the film,” she said.
An anonymous tip led the Journal to ask about the movie trip. The tipster complained about the waste of taxpayer dollars.
Chávez said she’s “disappointed” someone would see it that way.
The training is based on a recurring seminar offered by the Federal Judicial Center at Gettysburg, Pa., for employees of the federal judicial system. It is directed at developing effective leadership during turbulent times and is based on lessons learned by military and political leaders at the Civil War battle at Gettysburg.
Chávez said she didn’t see any problem with taking time from a work day with supervisors to see the film.
“This is a 24-7 job,” she said. “You don’t punch a clock when you get called on a Saturday when someone on federal supervision is arrested for a crime or people assigned by a judge to be in a halfway house show up drunk. You go out and do the job.”
Chávez oversees the budget for the entire state, 190 employees, and recently completed a five-year audit without any audit findings being raised by auditors.
“I overspend my budget, I go to jail,” she said.
Judge Armijo attended training at the Gettysburg program in October and said she found it rewarding.
“We couldn’t go to Gettysburg but I wanted the staff to get the spirit of what Lincoln, the soldiers and the African Americans faced,” Chávez said.
As part of the training in Albuquerque, supervisors also will read a book by Donald T. Phillips, “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times,” and meet four times next year to discuss lessons from the book involving dealing with people, character, communication and leadership.
“We’re facing tough budgets in the future,” Chávez said. “When I retire in a year I want to leave behind a staff that can get the job done, no matter how difficult the budget restraints are and that means training them to work in difficult times.”
The U.S. Probation Office supervises more than 1,500 convicted felons serving post-sentence supervision or what used to be called parole. They also supervise people serving probationary sentences and people released pending trial in federal courts.
The officers prepare reports for judges on all inmates arraigned in federal court and pre-sentence reports on more than 3,000 people convicted each year.