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New Supreme Court justice sworn in at balloon park

Judith K. Nakamura is sworn in as a justice for the New Mexico Supreme Court by Chief Justice Barbara J. Vigil on Friday at the Sid Cutter Pilots’ Pavilion at Balloon Fiesta Park. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Judith K. Nakamura is sworn in as a justice for the New Mexico Supreme Court by Chief Justice Barbara J. Vigil on Friday at the Sid Cutter Pilots’ Pavilion at Balloon Fiesta Park. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Justice Judith Nakamura’s skills at organizing were evident Friday afternoon at her ceremonial swearing-in.

Although it didn’t quite start on time for the perennially punctual Nakamura, she had family, friends and colleagues offer words and anecdotes and managed to pack the pilots’ pavilion at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta site for her formal investiture to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Among the speakers was Gov. Susana Martinez, who appointed her, and whose past relationship with the judiciary can be described as prickly at best. Martinez noted her experience in Metro Court and on the chief judges council. “Perhaps mostly importantly, (she has) experience in criminal justice. She oversaw countless criminal cases. I know New Mexicans are concerned with rising crime and boomerang offenders,” the governor said.

Nakamura, who pilots a balloon called Bounce – so named, quipped her brother Steve Nakamura, for her propensity for bumpy landings – chose the unusual venue for a judicial event because of her love for the sport, a release from the often tense setting of a trial court.

Chief Justice Barbara Vigil said it was fitting that the court’s newest justice fills the seat of the late Justice Mary Walters, a transport pilot in World War II and the Korean conflict. Nakamura’s appointment makes the New Mexico Supreme Court majority women. Besides Vigil, she joins Justices Petra Jimenez Maes, Edward Chavez and Charles Daniels.

Retired Metro Court Judge Sandra Clinton spoke of Nakamura’s impressive work ethic, such that even while going through surgeries and chemotherapy for breast cancer, she kept working. During her tenure as chief in that court, the state’s busiest, Nakamura developed or streamlined specialty courts and developed a system that sent traffic citations straight to Metro Court rather than having them routed through the police department, saving $1 million a year.

Nakamura, who actually began work a week ago, also pulled off gag gifts for her colleagues. She handed each of them balloon fiesta bumper stickers, programs and calendars with the fiesta dates marked through 2018, when she hopes to still be there.

She has to win the 2016 election first.

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