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Benito “Ben” Aragon
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democratic
RESIDENCE: Enchanted Hills, Rio Rancho
EDUCATION: Bernalillo High School; Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department Police Academy; FBI National Academy; leadership courses; legal updates and case reviews.
OCCUPATION: Law enforcement officer/supervision.
FAMILY: Married 21 years to my wife, Sylvia; three daughters, De Andria, Sierra and Cheyenne; and a grandson, Isaiah.
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Worked on several sheriff’s campaigns; this is my first run at a political office.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Acquiring 28 years of law enforcement experience: 17 years at Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office, earning rank of lieutenant; three years at Los Alamos Police Department; two years at the Jemez Pueblo Police Department; and the past six years at the Albuquerque Police Department, including selection and graduation from the FBI National Academy.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Being married for 21 years and assisting my wife to raise three wonderful daughters, teaching them respect for others, and the value of volunteering to help their community and those less fortunate than them through my affiliations with Big Brother/Big Sister; Rumble in Rio; and the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
AGE (on date of election): 37
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democratic
RESIDENCE: La Jara
EDUCATION: Some college.
FAMILY: Married to Kristina. Have seven boys from the ages of 1-16.
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Was in USAF for 10 years and the Air National Guard for three years.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Received my staff sergeant stripes early on in my Air Force Career; graduated Airman Leadership School; received my 7 level within my career field.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Married my best friend Kristina; I am the proud parent of seven wonderful boys and an active member of a very supportive community.
AGE (on date of election): 52
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democratic
EDUCATION: Master of social work, New Mexico Highlands University; juris doctorate (law degree), Gonzaga University School of Law.
FAMILY: Wife, Patricia A. Chavez; 14-year-old daughter, Jonni Chavez-Mast.
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Served as county precinct chair, state central committee member.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Graduation from law school, opening of private law practice.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Raising of honest, respectful and fantastic daughter.
Joseph Frank Ramirez
AGE (on date of election): 51
PARTY AFFILIATION: Democratic
EDUCATION: Cuba High School.
FAMILY: Wife, 3 children, 2 grandkids!
POLITICAL/GOVERNMENT EXPERIENCE: Mayordomo, Los Pinos Acequia Association; section leader, six-tank unit, U.S. Marine Corps.
MAJOR PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Facilitating the restoration and rehabilitation of the Los Pinos Acequia.
MAJOR PERSONAL ACCOMPLISHMENT: Marrying my wonderful wife, Pam, and raising a family with her.
Questions for Sandoval County Magistrate Judge, Division 2, candidates
Q: What do you consider to be the top two responsibilities for the magistrate judge and how would you fulfill them?
ARAGON: First is guiding the day-to-day operations of the magistrate court so that it functions efficiently and effectively to best serve the citizens of the state. I will see that every person gets the level of service they deserve when visiting the court. Second is ensuring fair, professional, consistent and ethical conduct of the court. The court must maintain its integrity in order to have the confidence of the community.
HERRERA: First and foremost is the protection of Sandoval County. Understanding the basics of small and large communities will allow me to see past just the person standing before me. Because of my Air Force training and roots in this county, I will be able to see families, mothers, fathers and much more. Second is to conduct oneself with integrity under the guidance of the law to enhance the lives of those in the courtroom and in the community from which they come.
MAST: The top responsibility is to have a broad knowledge of the criminal and civil areas of the law, and know how to apply the law to any given case. If a person does not know the statutes, case law, rules of evidence and procedure, it is impossible to make the correct decision. The second top responsibility is to examine the case before the court with honesty and fairness to all parties, never to pre-judge a case and to have respect for all parties.
RAMIREZ: Finding the very truth of the matter at hand is the top responsibility of this job. Everything else flows from there. Next would be making sure the resolution of the case ends up being firm but fair. Firm but fair. I would like to be known as that kind of judge, no matter who you are, cop or criminal, plaintiff or defendant, rich or poor. Addressing these responsibilities diligently will be my daily task.
Q: What are the primary challenges facing the office of the magistrate judge and what would you do to address them?
ARAGON: The majority of people visiting the magistrate court have never been in a courtroom before. One challenge is creating an environment where all people feel comfortable in their surroundings and confident that they will be dealt with in a professional, respectful manner. Another challenge is not allowing personal feelings or prejudices to impact the difficult decisions that affect people’s lives. I will make those decisions with careful thought, applied as the law is interpreted.
HERRERA: According to Canon 4: rule 21-401 paragraph (A)(2)(B) “Shall not with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of the office.” One challenge I feel I can address is the learning curve every one of the candidates in this race is behind on. Not one of us has been a judge; however, I will do my utmost best to push myself to be the type of magistrate judge this county needs.
MAST: Budget issues are a primary challenge. There is often a backlog of cases simply because of the large caseload and a lack of staff. I would attempt to expedite cases as much as possible by simplifying procedures, making it easier for parties to settle civil cases by mediation and possible arbitration, and attempting to move criminal cases through the docket as quickly as possible. I would attempt to bring in more legislative dollars for clerical staff.
RAMIREZ: The courts have an enormous problem due to the volume of cases and the limited number of hours in the day. I would do anything I could to help unclog the backlog so that people could expect timely resolution of cases. Another challenge is to manage this large volume of cases on limited funds. I will do everything I can to make sure the taxpayer’s dollar is spent wisely.
Q: What qualities or experiences make you a better candidate for Sandoval County than your opponents?
ARAGON: Twenty-eight years of law enforcement service has required many visits to various courts of law. I have experience preparing cases for prosecution and then testifying to such. I understand the concepts of probable cause and the elements of a crime. I have seen effective and ineffective judges, and have learned from them. I believe I have the broadest trial experience of any of my opponents as I have testified in metro, magistrate, district and tribal courts.
HERRERA: I have lived and breathed integrity through my 10 years of active military service. Manipulation of regulations and the law for your own personal agenda is something you just don’t do. I do not believe that this is a political office but one of public service. I will do the right thing under the guidance of the law, even if it may cost me votes in a later election.
MAST: I have the experience and knowledge of the law required in this important position. I was a Sandoval County assistant district attorney prosecuting misdemeanors and felonies in magistrate and district courts for years. I’ve had a private law practice in Bernalillo for the past 10 years, specializing in criminal defense and civil trial law, primarily in magistrate courts. I will treat all people with honesty, fairness and respect. I am very familiar with court, procedural and evidentiary rules.
RAMIREZ: I speak English, Spanish and some Dine. I don’t need a map to find my way around the district. Except for a few years overseas in the Marines, I’ve always lived in Sandoval County. People know me and my family, which stretches back in Sandoval County for over 200 years. I have worked with and for the people whose cases I will be hearing. I live with them. I believe that gives me credibility.
Q: How important is it for a magistrate judge be a licensed attorney in New Mexico?
ARAGON: I strongly believe it is not a necessity for this position. Our forefathers had great intentions in making the magistrate court a court for the people. A working knowledge of the law, understanding and caring about others, life experiences, dedication, and respect for people and our Constitution are more important. I respect the magistrate court being the people’s court and it should not be altered in any way.
HERRERA: It is not. According to NMSA 1978 35-2-1, in any county that has a population of less than 200,000 people, a magistrate is not required to be a member of the bar of this state or licensed to practice law in this state. Sandoval County has a population of 131,561.
MAST: It is very important for magistrate judges to be licensed attorneys. An attorney can hit the ground running, and be an effective and knowledgeable judge from day one, while non-attorneys have to have “on-the-job training.” The law is becoming more complicated and appellate decisions come out weekly, if not more often. If a judge does not know the law and makes a wrong decision, it can affect the person’s freedom or wallet, or both.
RAMIREZ: You don’t have to be a licensed attorney to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Most jurisdictions throughout the nation, at the magistrate level, do not have this requirement. It’s credibility again. Who has more credibility, a person who drives a shiny car, lives 95 miles away and went to a law school 1,000 miles away, or a guy who maybe went to school with your dad and provided firewood for your grandma?
Q: Have you or your business, if you are a business owner, ever been the subject of any state or federal tax liens?
Q: Have you ever been involved in a personal or business bankruptcy proceeding?
HERRERA: Yes, 12 years ago.
Q: Have you ever been arrested for, or charged with, or convicted of drunken driving or any felony in New Mexico or any other state? If so, please explain.
ARAGON: I was arrested for DWI 30 years ago during my senior year of high school, but I was not convicted. I learned a valuable lesson, and the experience changed the way I thought and propelled me to a career in law enforcement.
RAMIREZ: About 20 years ago, I was charged with a DUI. I paid a fine and did community service. Since then, I’ve seen lethal destruction from drunken driving, and its devastation to homes and families. I pledge to give the maximum possible penalties to drunken driving offenders.