Courts are increasingly asked for comment regarding cases or legal issues that are the subject of public interest. However, judges cannot comment on pending cases for a good reason. In compliance with the Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as the laws and the Constitution, judges are prohibited from publicly explaining their decisions in a manner that could affect the outcome of a case, the fairness of a proceeding, or give any impression of judicial bias.
It is a basic principle of our judicial system that judges act as neutral and impartial arbiters. The role of a judge is to render impartial decisions in accordance with the law. Judges promote public confidence in the integrity of the judicial system by ensuring the impartiality of an independent and honorable judicial system that is indispensable to justice in our society. There are always two sides to a story, but it is never the court that is on one side or the other. Since legal issues are always impending in some way or another, courts must refrain from commenting on specific laws or providing a legal analysis. For a balanced understanding of any legal case or specific court ruling, both sides should always be afforded an opportunity to weigh in, which does not, and should never, include the court.
We understand that the court’s declination to comment on specific cases can be frustrating to the public and the media. There is a great deal of interest in how and why judges make their decisions. However, the court’s neutrality is essential to the fairness of the democratic process. Consider how you would feel if you found yourself in court as part of a lawsuit and a judge publicly discussed the merits of your case on TV or in the newspaper without you being present. Would you have confidence that the judge would then later render a fair and impartial decision? Neutrality requires that the court refrain from weighing in during public discourse on cases; this is true even when the court might want to explain a ruling that it feels is being misstated or misrepresented in the news. The court’s sole means for explaining its reasoning is through its written and verbal orders, which are generally publicly accessible. If the public is interested in why a court ruled the way it did, the court’s response is to direct the public to the orders in the case.
The public is welcome to attend hearings if interested in understanding how decisions are made, either in-person or remotely, depending on the circumstances. Case dockets are also available at https://caselookup.nmcourts.gov/caselookup/, and most court pleadings are a public record and available through court clerk’s office. The court has remained open throughout the entirety of the pandemic and continues to provide access to justice. We welcome the public to come see what we do and how we do it.
It is important to know last year alone, the Second Judicial District Court opened or reopened over 3,000 family domestic violence cases; over 3,400 divorce cases; over 1,300 child support cases; over 9,700 civil actions; over 2,800 lower court competency, juvenile mental health and sequestered mental health cases; over 1,000 probate cases; over 7,000 criminal cases; and over 250 conservatorship or guardianship cases. In addition, the judges resolved and closed over 29,000 cases – all of which occurred under modified operations as a result of the pandemic.
Judges interpret the law, render decisions on the evidence presented and ensure court procedures are followed and decorum is maintained. The Second Judicial District Court judges are committed to remaining above the fray and ensuring fairness and impartiality in every case that comes before them.