University of New Mexico Law School Dean Alfred Mathewson, in his recent op-ed column, makes excuses after criticisms of inadequate public notice and access to submitted applications to the Judicial Nominating Commission. He doth protest too much.
The New Mexico Constitution, Art. 6 Para. 3, mandates that there first has to be an “actual vacancy” of an appellate court seat before the Judicial Nominating Commission can meet.
Mathewson called the meeting for Oct. 19, in anticipation of the vacancy of Justice Richard C. Bosson. Bosson announced a projected retirement date of Oct. 31 back in June. The meeting was unconstitutionally called and convened.
I pointed this out in a memo sent via email to Mathewson on Thursday morning prior to the meeting and asked that it be distributed to the commission members. Either he or the commission ignored the memo by not putting it on the meeting agenda for discussion and determination.
Mathewson set the deadline for applications for Justice Bosson’s seat for Friday, Oct. 9 at 5 p.m. The dean states the applications were digitized on Monday, Oct. 12th and made available to the public on Tuesday, Oct. 13th.
By “made available” he means one had to contact his administrative assistant to provide copies by email. With statewide interest in who will be the next appointed appellate judge or justice, these public record applications should have been immediately posted on the commission’s website.
The complaint that it was “no small feat” to digitize the applications is laughable when quality scanners are everywhere. It is not complex.
And, further, it takes no more effort to post electronically scanned applications on the website than to send them to one person via email. Either Mathewson and the commission believe in the letter and spirit of open government or they don’t.
There is no constitutional time limit placed on the commission for acceptance of applications. The form is available on its website 24/7. Those seeking the position can begin to prepare their applications as soon as there is an anticipated retirement vacancy announced.
The meeting of the Judicial Nominating Commission can’t be held until there is an “actual vacancy” and must be held within 30 days of that vacancy. Set the meeting for 30 days once the vacancy occurs and make the application deadline 25 days before the meeting.
Mathewson would then have time to post the applications on the website the day after deadline to give the public almost three weeks to review and comment to the commission for or against the candidates.
Let’s hope the dean and the commission fix these problems before they meet again to fill the Court of Appeals vacancy set to happen on Jan. 1, 2016.