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Chief District Judge Stan Whitaker has announced his intention to step down from the post but will continue to serve on the bench.
A 2nd Judicial District Court spokesman confirmed Thursday that Whitaker made the announcement in an Aug. 20 email to court personnel.
“Although I plan to continue as a ‘regular judge’ on the criminal bench, I feel it is time to hand over the reins to another judge to keep the court moving forward,” Whitaker wrote.
Whitaker has served as chief since January 2019. He was elected by colleagues in October 2018 after then-Chief Judge Nan Nash announced plans to retire.
District Court spokesman Sidney Hill said he had no information about when an election may be held to choose Whitaker’s replacement.
A University of New Mexico Law School graduate, Whitaker served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico and a prosecutor in the 2nd Judicial District before he was appointed to the family court in 2006. He later moved to the criminal division.
Whitaker has led the court throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when the New Mexico Supreme Court halted jury trials statewide for more than five months in 2020 and 2021.
Only 22 criminal jury trials were held in Bernalillo County in the year ending June 30, down from 66 the year before.
Whitaker’s announcement comes as the 2nd Judicial District Court has come under fire from Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina for releasing a homicide suspect who subsequently cut off his ankle bracelet. The suspect has since been arrested.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently announced that she will support a push by District Attorney Raúl Torrez that would require judges to lock up defendants awaiting trial for certain violent crimes.
Whitaker also has presided at a time of tension between Torrez and District Court over the issue of how criminal cases are initiated.
District Court in recent years has reduced the number of grand jury hours available each week, requiring prosecutors to hold more preliminary hearings to launch criminal cases.
Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller wrote a joint letter in May 2019 asking the state Supreme Court to intervene, arguing that preliminary hearings are time-consuming and resource-heavy.
The Supreme Court declined to intervene.
Whitaker and then-Judge Charles Brown fired back that the shift to preliminary hearings was necessary “given the historic failure of the District Attorney’s Office to frontload cases,” resulting “in a waste of resources for all criminal justice stakeholders.”