Kenneth H. Martinez, 1954-2023: Former district judge ‘was good at what he did’ - Albuquerque Journal

Kenneth H. Martinez, 1954-2023: Former district judge ‘was good at what he did’

Former District Judge Kenneth Martinez died on Jan. 5. (Courtesy of Vivian Martinez)

Copyright © 2023 Albuquerque Journal

For Vivian Martinez, it was love at first sight. The year was 1985. She was chief deputy clerk for Taos County, and the object of her instantaneous affection was Kenneth H. Martinez, the new assistant district attorney for the county. He was walking down stairs at the Taos County Courthouse when she saw him.

“He had a beautiful haircut, a trenchcoat and a suit,” Vivian said. “He was dark, handsome and dressed to the nines. He floored me. I told my boss, the county clerk, ‘I’m going to marry him.'”

Their first date was at a Taos restaurant on a Friday the 13th, but it turned out lucky for both of them. They were married in 1988.

“My honeymoon was different than most,” Vivian said. “He took me, my son and daughter (from a previous marriage) and my sister to Disneyland. I was expecting something a little more romantic. But he had married into this family, and he wanted to celebrate with all of us.”

Kenneth Martinez, a retired district judge, died Jan. 5 following a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 68. In addition to his wife, survivors include three daughters and a son, 10 grandchildren, his father, two brothers and a sister.

A Spanish rosary will be recited at 10 a.m. and a memorial Mass celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 8 at Our Lady of Annunciation Church, 2621 Vermont NE.

‘So devastated’

Ken Martinez was born in Albuquerque, graduated from Manzano High School in 1973, earned his undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico in 1977 and obtained his law degree from the UNM School of Law in 1980.

He launched his legal career as a prosecutor serving San Juan, McKinley, Taos and Bernalillo counties and in 1989 became deputy district attorney supervising the Violent Crimes Division for Bernalillo County.

Martinez then worked for several defense law firms before starting his own law practice in 1997. In September 2005, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson appointed him judge for the 2nd Judicial District Court.

Retired District Judge Neil Candelaria met Ken when they were both prosecutors working for Bernalillo County District Attorney Steven Schiff in the late 1980s.

“I had just started new there and Kenny was in a supervisory position,” Candelaria said. “He was a great guy to work with. Very smart. He handled a lot of high-profile cases because he was good at what he did.”

Candelaria was already serving as judge for the 2nd Judicial District when Ken was appointed to the bench.

“I valued his knowledge,” Candelaria said. “We would often sit in each other’s office and run situations and problems in cases we were handling by each other. We shared a lot of that. Kenny was a very approachable guy, and I respected him very much.”

Ken worked nine years as district judge before a diagnosis of Younger-Onset Alzheimer’s at age 59 forced him to leave the bench.

“He was so devastated,” Vivian said. “For the next nine months (after stepping down as judge), he just sat outside and stared into space. It was his dream job. He was Judge Martinez. That is who he was. When he left the bench, he lost himself. He called losing his job his first death.”

Even though he identified intensely with his role as a judge, Ken Martinez was a man of many interests. Vivian said he loved traveling, the arts and music and took pleasure in visiting museums and historical landmarks and also in evening walks to the park with her and their collie, Sheba. She said sports were important to him – golf, skiing, and UNM Lobos basketball and football.

Ken also enjoyed outdoor activities – hiking, backpacking, camping and – especially – fly-fishing. Vivian said that in compliance with his wishes, his ashes will be put in his favorite fishing spot near Peñasco.

“And he was so good with children,” she said. “We had 25 foster children within a five-year span.”

Loyal friend

David Plante and Ken were kids themselves when they met in Albuquerque.

“I had known Ken for about 60 years,” Plante said. “His mother, Helen, was our den mother for Cub Scouts. She was dealing with 10 or 12 third-graders, trying to teach us crafts or taking us to the Rainbow bread factory or the Uncle Roy TV show.”

Plante and Ken were classmates at Los Altos Elementary School, Grant Junior High and Manzano High School.

“Ken was on the wrestling team in ninth grade and won a city championship,” Plante said. “His friends were all excited because we knew someone who was a city champion.”

Plante and Ken both got their undergraduate degrees at UNM, but while Ken enrolled in the university’s law school, Plante went to work for the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. They met again when Plante returned to New Mexico to work as a park ranger at El Morro National Monument.

“We became really good friends then,” Plante said. “We were roommates in a house when I went back to UNM for graduate school and he was working at the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office. When we lived together, he loved to watch (the TV series) ‘M*A*S*H.’ Two episodes would come on back-to-back after the 10 o’clock news. Double ‘M*A*S*H.'”

Plante said that Ken, like his favorite television show, had a sense of humor.

“We were playing golf before I left Albuquerque to take a job with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in Dallas,” Plante said. “Ken kept trying to get me to use this golf ball he had. ‘Here, play this ball,’ he’d said.” Finally, Plante agreed.

“When I hit that ball, it just shattered and there was this big cloud of dust, like baby powder,” he said. “And Ken was just back there laughing.”

Plante said that as recently as two or three years ago, he and a couple of others attended Lobo football and basketball games with Ken.

“Somebody would pick Ken up, and we had a place where we’d meet to tailgate for football games,” Plante said. “Ken’d get excited at the games, not like crazy, but excited. More so with basketball. After a close (basketball) loss, he’d say, ‘They played just well enough to break your heart.'”

Plante said loyalty is the first word that comes to mind when he thinks of his longtime buddy.

“We would kid and joke with each other, but you always knew Ken had your back.”

Hound dog smile

“He called me Babe or Wifey, but I always called him Martinez ,” Vivian said of her husband. “He had this kind sideways smile, that I called his hound dog smile, whenever he was up to something. He might have bought a piece of art he had not talked to me about. Or maybe he had taken the girls to McDonald’s even though he knew I didn’t want them to eat fast food. Or he might be planning a trip for us to Mexico.

“If he was planning a surprise, he was like a little boy. So excited. He was generous, feisty, stubborn, silly, hard-headed and proud, but kind and compassionate. And he enjoyed life to the fullest in the outside world as long as he could.”

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