2016: New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission Recommends Retaining One Supreme Court Justice And Three Court Of Appeals Judges

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – September 28, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE – The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (NMJPEC) today recommended retaining one New Mexico Supreme Court justice and three New Mexico Court of Appeals judges standing for retention in the 2016 general election. To remain on the bench, these judges must receive at least 57 percent voter approval under state law.

NMJPEC issued "retain" evaluations for Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Vigil and Court of Appeals Judges Tim L. Garcia, Jonathan B. Sutin and M. Monica Zamora.

"While the vast majority of New Mexicans will never come in contact with these individuals, their role in the state's judiciary is critical. The Supreme Court is New Mexico's highest court and the court of last resort, with control over all inferior courts and attorneys licensed in the state. This court hears appeals of criminal cases involving life sentences and the death penalty, appeals from the Public Regulation Commission, and actions challenging nominations and removal of public officials," explained Denise Torres, chair of NMJPEC.

Former Judge James Hall, vice-chair of NMJPEC added, "The Court of Appeals, our state's intermediate court, has jurisdiction in civil and non-capital criminal and juvenile case appeals, as well as administrative agency appeals."

In making their evaluations to voters, NMJPEC based its evaluations on the overall performance of the justice and judges in four main areas:

1) Legal ability;

2) Fairness;

3) Communication skills; and

4) Preparation, attentiveness, temperament and control over proceedings.

The evaluation process includes independent surveys of individuals who come in contact with the judges, including attorneys, court staff, and other judges. NMJPEC also met one-on-one with the justice and judges to review the survey results as well as their self-assessment of performance. In addition, the evaluations include information on the judges’ experience and education.

Justice Barbara J. Vigil, who has served on the Supreme Court since 2012, was rated positively by attorneys for demonstrating appropriate demeanor during proceedings, writing opinions that are appropriate in tone and substance, and for displaying fairness and impartiality toward each side of the case. The court staff scored her very highly for working effectively and cooperatively with other court personnel, behaving in a manner that encourages respect for the courts, and for being a hard worker. Her fellow appellate judges and the district judges rated her positively on all attributes. Of those surveyed, 75 percent of attorneys, 91 percent of court staff, 100 percent of appellate judges and 98 percent of district court judges recommended she be retained.

Judge Tim L. Garcia, who has served on the Court of Appeals since 2008, was rated positively by attorneys for demonstrating appropriate demeanor during proceedings, for conducting himself in a manner free from impropriety, and for rendering opinions without regard to possible public criticism. Court staff rated him positively for writing separate opinions that are appropriate in tone and substance, and for rendering opinions without regard to possible public criticism. His fellow appellate judges rated him positively for his knowledge regarding substantive law and the rules of procedure and evidence, arriving at proceedings on time, assisting in administrative duties, and participating in court projects. Of those surveyed, 69 percent of attorneys, 84 percent of court staff, 83 percent of appellate judges and 94 percent of district court judges recommended he be retained.

Judge Jonathan B. Sutin, who has served on the Court of Appeals since 1999, received positive scores among attorneys for demonstrating appropriate demeanor, rendering opinions without regard to possible public criticism, and for conducting himself in a manner free from impropriety. Among attorneys, Judge Sutin also received a positive score for writing opinions that demonstrate scholarly legal analysis. Court staff rated Judge Sutin highly for being a hard worker and for respecting court employees regardless of position. Of those surveyed, 75 percent of attorneys, 95 percent of court staff, 92 percent of appellate judges and 95 percent of district court judges recommended he be retained.

Judge M. Monica Zamora, who has served on the Court of Appeals since 2012 was rated positively by attorneys for displaying fairness and impartiality towards each side of the case and for conducting herself in a manner free from impropriety. She also received positive ratings from attorneys, district judges, and her fellow appellate court judges for writing opinions that are appropriate in tone and substance and for demonstrating an appropriate demeanor during proceedings. Of those surveyed, 73 percent of attorneys, 98 percent of court staff, 100 percent of appellate judges and 93 percent of district court judges recommended she be retained.

NMJPEC has posted evaluations in English and Spanish on its website, nmjpec.org. Individuals can download English or Spanish voter’s guides or call 1-800-687-3417 to request a printed guide by mail.

Absentee voting begins Tuesday, Oct. 11; early voting is scheduled from Saturday, Oct. 22 through Saturday, Nov. 5; and Election Day in-person voting is from 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 8. Results will be posted on nmjpec.org as soon as possible following the election.

"We encourage everyone to vote in the judicial retention elections. These elections are at the bottom of the ballot, so please take the time to go all the way through the ballot, and vote in all elections in which you are eligible to cast a ballot," Torres said.

NMJPEC was established by the Supreme Court of New Mexico to improve the performance of
New Mexico’s judges and provide useful, credible information to New Mexico voters on all judges standing for retention during elections. The nonpartisan volunteer Commission has 15 members, including seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers, who are appointed to staggered terms. Members are appointed to represent divergent professions, backgrounds and geographical areas of the state.

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