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Editorial: Journal endorsements for judicial positions

State Supreme Court – Justice Judith Nakamura

Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura has credentials voters should appreciate in any elected official: a depth and breadth of pertinent experience, glowing recommendations from all quarters, an unparalleled work ethic and a strong foundation in the law with a serious dose of common sense.

 Judith Nakamura

Judith Nakamura

Nakamura has 27 years of experience in the legal arena as private, corporate and government counsel. She has 17 years of experience as a judge handling civil and criminal cases on the Metropolitan, 2nd Judicial District and Supreme Court benches.

In her Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission rankings, “attorneys rated her positively for her knowledge of the law, punctuality in commencing proceedings, maintaining proper control over the proceedings, ruling decisively on legal matters, and for displaying familiarity with court cases through prior preparation.” Her fellow Metro Court judges recognized her organizational and supervisory skills, and elected her not once, but four times to be their chief judge, with the responsibility of administering the busiest court in the state.

Gov. Susana Martinez selected her for the Supreme Court last year from the bipartisan Judicial Nomination Commission’s shortlist of vetted candidates. And Mothers Against Drunk Driving named her its Judge of the Year for her innovative efforts to reduce DWI.

Nakamura, a Republican, has a reputation as a no-nonsense judge, yet her approach is always to try to get defendants on a better path. She says one of her most rewarding memories is of walking in a parade and being stopped by the mother of a defendant she sentenced – only to be hugged and told “you turned our lives around.”

The Journal recommends voters keep Justice Judith Nakamura’s experience, work ethic and common sense on the Supreme Court.

State Court of Appeals – Judge Stephen G. French

A long-time Albuquerque attorney, Judge Stephen G. French was appointed to the Court of Appeals in February by Gov. Susana Martinez after he was vetted by the bipartisan Judicial Nomination Commission. He replaced Judge Cynthia Fry, who retired at the end of 2015.

Stephen G. French

Stephen G. French

French, a Republican, earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico and his law degree from California Western School of Law in San Diego.

After graduating in 1980, he went to work as an assistant district attorney in the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s office, then signed up for the Criminal Justice Act panel as a federal public defender. In 1982, he went into private practice handling cases in criminal defense, civil litigation, family law and civil rights. In 1990, he was named legal bureau chief for the state’s Risk Management Division, and represented state, county and municipal governments. In 1993, he opened French & Associates, mostly defending civil rights cases until he retired in 2015.

French is a proponent of taking politics out of judicial races. He said it makes no sense to go through a bipartisan nominating commission, be appointed and then have to run a partisan election campaign.

French’s diverse legal career makes him a good fit for the Appeals Court. The Journal endorses Judge Stephen G. French.

Retain appellate judges

Four New Mexico appellate judges stand for retention in this year’s general election: Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Vigil, and Court of Appeals Judges Jonathan B. Sutin, M. Monica Zamora and Tim L. Garcia.

All four received excellent ratings by the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which also recommended their retentions. The NMJPEC is a nonpartisan board set up by the Supreme Court in 1997 to evaluate judges and remove some of the partisan politics from the judiciary.

The Journal recommends that voters also approve the retentions of Justice Vigil, and Judges Sutin, Zamora and Garcia.

LOCAL RACES

2nd Judicial District Court Division 9 – Judge David Williams

Judge David Williams’ campaign placard introduces him to voters as “Educator. Soldier. Leader.” All three have provided Williams with the foundation to run a courtroom that he understands not only metes out justice, but also profoundly affects the lives of the people who stand before him.

Williams started work as a teacher of history and civics for Albuquerque Public Schools. He brings that skill set to his courtroom every day, ensuring not only that his cases run on schedule, but also that everyone knows why a decision is made. He served as a platoon leader in the First Infantry Division in Vietnam, and earned three Bronze Stars, two Air Medals, an Army Commendation Medal and the Combat Infantryman’s badge, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. That experience has given him an appreciation not only for the trust taxpayers have placed in his supervision of their assets, but also for the responsibility of making decisions that change lives.

And Williams has been a lawyer in private practice, as well as a military judge, 2nd Judicial District Assistant DA and assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico.

Williams was appointed to the bench earlier this year by Gov. Martinez to replace Nakamura, who moved up to the Supreme Court. He strongly believes “every litigant has a right to understand the reasoning behind a decision” and recalls the criminal defendant who spoke up during proceedings to announce to the court, “I want to thank you for giving me a fair trial.” There can be no higher praise for a judge.

The Journal recommends voters keep Judge David Williams in the courtroom so justice is not just administered in an expeditious manner, but one that educates, as well.

Metropolitan Court Division 2 – Judge Chris J. Schultz

Judge Chris J. Schultz was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez in August 2015 to replace Kevin Fitzwater, who retired.

Schultz had been appointed to Metro Court’s Division 4 in 2014, but lost his partisan election that year. Schultz has been recommended to serve as a Metro Court judge four times by the bipartisan Judicial Nominating Commission. Before being appointed in 2014, Schultz had retired from the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office as deputy district attorney. He has served 19 years as a prosecutor.

Schultz received his bachelor’s degree from Baylor University. In 1985, he went through the Albuquerque Police Department Academy to become a police officer. About seven years into his roughly 10-year career with APD, he decided to go to law school, working nights for APD and going to school during the day. He received his law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1994.

Schultz’s career makes him well suited to be a judge in Metro Court, which has jurisdiction over misdemeanors, DWIs and DUIs, traffic violations, preliminary felony hearings and bail hearings. The Journal recommends Judge Chris J. Schultz for Metro Court Division 2.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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