RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Recently appointed District Judge Gina Manfredi said she will appeal a court ruling Tuesday that lets stand the Democratic Party of New Mexico’s nomination of Chris Pérez for the new Sandoval County district judge post in the November election.
“Actually, in the past two weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people and had several attorneys approach me in the courtroom, to express support,” she said Thursday. “These folks are Democrat and Republican, which means this isn’t a political issue but a public interest issue.”
Manfredi, who was recommended to the governor for appointment by a judicial nominating committee and began hearing cases this month, lost to Pérez in an election by the DPNM’s state central committee in July to determine the Democratic candidate for the 13th Judicial District post in the general election.
Manfredi, whose term would end when the general election winner takes office, sued the party, contending the state should allow her to run for the position. She asked the court to consider ordering a runoff election, placing both her and Pérez’s names on the general election ballot or allowing her to serve until the next primary.
District Judge Francis J. Mathew ruled Tuesday against Manfredi during a hearing in Santa Fe.
Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman said Friday, “Manfredi is entitled to exercise her right through the judicial system,” but her argument has not been carrying its weight.
“Maybe this third time she appeals will be the last time we have to go through this,” he said.
State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, legal counsel for Pérez, a Bernalillo attorney and law school classmate, said in an interview Friday he expects Manfredi will ask the state Supreme Court to hear her appeal. He indicated she will have to take to court the judge who ruled against her.
Rather than ruling on procedural issues or deciding to sign a writ, according to Ivey-Soto, Mathew simply evaluated the merits of the case and found no conflict between the state constitution and statutes.
An alternative writ, if ordered by the judge, would have required Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who was one of the defendants in the case, to perform a certain action, such as adjusting the names on the ballot, or appear before the court and make her case for why she should have not to accomplish that task.
“Judge Mathew’s ruling was a refreshingly clear ruling on his view of the law,” Ivey-Soto said.
Ivey-Soto said he contended Tuesday no relief was possible for Manfredi. The constitution and state law outline a process for judicial elections and do not allow for the alternative arrangements requested by Manfredi, he added.
Manfredi, who was an assistant city attorney in Rio Rancho before her appointment, cited a conflict between a 1988 amendment to the state constitution creating bipartisan judicial nominating commissions to fill judicial vacancies in district and appellate courts, and the election code that gives political parties the right to select nominees when those vacancies occur after primaries.
The Supreme Court, if it accepts Manfredi’s appeal, would likely decide whether a conflict exists between the state constitution and state election laws. Manfredi says the constitution lets voters select candidates during elections, while state election laws give parties a chance to pick their own nominees.
“I’ve dedicated my professional life to public service, and I simply believe that the public has not had a fair opportunity to be heard,” Manfredi said.
She might not have her appeal heard. The New Mexico Supreme Court on July 24 rejected Manfredi’s initial petition to invalidate the results of the state central committee meeting.
“So I will appeal, and even if the case isn’t heard in a timely enough manner to affect me personally, the issue will be scrutinized and hopefully resolved,” Manfredi said.
If it takes up the appeal from Manfredi, the Supreme Court might choose to expedite the case. State election laws say election administrators must finalize the ballot by Sept. 9 and send those ballots to military and overseas voters by Sept. 19 (Federal law requires that to happen 45 days before the election).
If necessary, according to Ivey-Soto, the Supreme Court could adjust those deadlines and the U.S. Department of Justice could issue a waiver of the Sept. 19 deadline for certain precincts affected by pending litigation.
On April 29, 35 days before the June 3 primary election, the Supreme Court denied an appeal from state Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, of a lower court ruling that said she had insufficient petition signatures to appear on the ballot. Ivey-Soto said the Justice Department issued a waiver for that election.