SANTA FE — The state House late Friday passed a bill that would make it a crime to threaten a judge — action that came after New Mexico judges reported harassment and threats of sexual violence.
Republican Rep. Ryan Lane of Aztec said lawmakers heard testimony from judges in committee hearings about “the type of intimidation that would give us all pause.”
He presented the legislation, House Bill 99, as the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, Michael E. Vigil, served as an expert witness.
The bill passed the House on an 59-7 vote and now heads to the Senate after a 70-minute debate late Friday night.
“The goal is to try to protect our judiciary,” said Lane, a cosponsor of the bill.
The measure would make it a fourth-degree felony to threaten a judge or the judge’s family members. The threat would have to be made with the intent of making the victims fear great bodily harm, interrupting their job duties or retaliating for their work in court.
Under the bill, the malicious sharing of a judge’s personal information to cause harm would be a misdemeanor.
Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil, D-Albuquerque, said one judge was almost run over by a someone who had appeared in court. Others have faced harassment, she said.
“We can’t have a functional judiciary if our judges are scared to go to work,” Hochman-Vigil said.
Some Republican lawmakers questioned whether the legislation is necessary and, if so, whether other public servants should be covered under the bill.
All seven “no” vote came from Republicans.
Rep. Zachary Cook, R-Ruidoso, asked whether any judge in New Mexico had actually been murdered or kidnapped. He suggested assault and battery laws already in place are sufficient to protect judges without interfering with the right to free speech.
“This is a First Amendment issue,” said Cook, who voted against the bill.
Lane noted that it’s already a crime — with stiffer penalties — to threaten a witness or juror.
Lawmakers discussed broadening the proposal to cover prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement officers. But they said they wanted to discuss the idea more carefully, and no amendment was proposed.
To reach the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the bill would have to clear the Senate and its committee system by noon Thursday, the end of the 30-day session.