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Judicial group opens its deliberations

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Henry Alaniz, chief judge in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, makes no claim to have seen it all, but last week he experienced a novelty among the many judicial nominating commissions on which he has sat.

“It was a first,” Alaniz said of a vote opening up the process during which commissioners deliberated about each candidate, warts and all.

A commission is formed each time there is a vacancy in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, state district courts, Court of Appeals or Supreme Court to decide who are the best prospects. The names go to the governor, who makes the appointment.

In this case, 10 applicants were seeking a seat in the court’s criminal division. Seven names were sent up by Raylene Weis at the University of New Mexico School of Law, who coordinates the commissions. The dean is the nonvoting chair.

Alaniz, a Republican, has been a frequent flyer, so to speak, at commissions – first as an attorney and then as a Metro Court judge. Forty or 50 of them, by his estimation.

“I’ve never seen it done before,” Alaniz said. “There was a motion for an executive session. Then there was a motion (and discussion of) why an open meeting is better than a closed meeting, and it passed … The argument was that everything leaks anyways so what are you really accomplishing (and) why not be transparent?”

Alaniz said it could be a problem for judges, who could appear biased if they voice a criticism about a candidate, but he is generally supportive of opening discussion as well as the actual vote.

Commission member Chuck Peifer, appointed by House Speaker Don Tripp, made the motion to open the meeting. He said fellow commissioner Jessica Hernandez, who recently became Albuquerque city attorney, “chimed in to support the motion,” which after some debate was approved on a 9-6 vote.

Although the deliberations were public, no one from the public or the media was there to hear them.

While the open discussion was a first for Metro Court, it technically isn’t the first time the commission has voted to do it. Weis said that in the 2½ years she’s been coordinating the commissions, there have been two other open deliberations – but both were vacancies in the 5th Judicial District for which only one candidate applied.

In the end, the commission recommended seven candidates for the governor’s consideration to replace retiring Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Judge Kevin Fitzwater:

• Jason Greenlee, an assistant district attorney in white collar crimes who was on the bench almost two years, January 2013 to December 2014. He is a University of Minnesota Law School graduate.

• Jason Matthew Jaramillo, assistant county attorney for the county’s Public Safety Division and graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law.

• Amanda Lucero, a private attorney handling mostly insurance defense and graduate of UNM School of Law.

• Nicholas Marshall, assistant supervisor in the Crimes Against Children division of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office and a UNM School of Law graduate.

• Jacqueline Rose Medina, a state assistant attorney general since 2000 currently handling appellate cases and a UNM School of Law graduate.

• Felicia Blea-Rivera, an assistant county attorney counseling the Bernalillo County Commission in employment, criminal code enforcement, civil rights claims and other issues, and a UNM School of Law graduate.

• Chris Schultz, a 20-year prosecutor with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office and former police officer and detective who was a Metro Court judge in the criminal division from August to December 2014. He is a UNM School of Law graduate.