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Judge Nakamura’s replacement delayed

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A committee will have to start all over to find a replacement for Judge Judith Nakamura, who resigned from her seat on the 2nd Judicial District Court to join the New Mexico Supreme Court. She was sworn in during a ceremony Friday.

Gov. Susana Martinez notified judicial selection coordinator Raylene Weis at the University of New Mexico School of Law late Friday that the single name the commission sent up – that of former federal prosecutor and FBI agent Amy Sirignano – is not enough.

So it’s back to the drawing board. The problem is, redoing the process means the vacancy can’t be filled for probably another two months, during a very difficult time as the court strains to get criminal cases to trial under a year-old Supreme Court rule.

The new deadline for applying is 5 p.m. Jan. 7 and interviews will be at 9 a.m. Jan. 14 at the courthouse. The governor has 30 days after that to make an appointment from the list. Applications submitted previously “remain viable,” according to a press release from the law school.

“It is within governor’s purview to send back the list and ask for more names,” Chief Judge Nan Nash said Monday.

But timelines mean the court will be down a criminal judge for 60 days and bringing in pro tem judges to handle cases in the meantime. Nash said the court has a list of former judges to call upon to ensure matters are heard in a timely manner.

But she added, “It just puts more strain on an already strained system.”

Whoever is ultimately selected for Nakamura’s vacancy will be assigned newly filed cases. Three other sitting judges handle the “special calendar” of old cases.

The commission met last week and interviewed four candidates, but found only Sirignano was qualified.

The court’s heavy caseload, higher-than-average media scrutiny and the need to mount a political campaign are factors that have combined to suppress the number of attorneys seeking the nomination.

Whoever gets the appointment, whether Republican or Democrat, will have to run in a partisan election in November 2016, a presidential election year.