New Mexico’s top courts are in transition, with recent and pending retirements creating changes on both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. This November, voters will be choosing five judges for the Court of Appeals and one for the state Supreme Court. One appeals court judge also is up for retention.
Here are our recommendations in statewide judicial races. We were impressed with the quality of the people who are willing to serve our state on the bench.
Court of Appeals
Position 1: We recommend that voters return Judge Stephen G. French, a Republican appointee, to the bench. While his opponent, Democrat Kristina Bogardus, also is qualified, it is important to keep some continuity and institutional memory on the court. French has a wide variety of law experience, especially in criminal and constitutional law, including having represented a defendant facing the death penalty. He has served capably as a judge on the Court of Appeals. For Position 1, Stephen G. French.
Position 2: Again, a race with two excellent candidates. Sitting Judge Henry “Hank” Bohnhoff is another GOP pick from Gov. Susana Martinez. He is smart and able and can boast of broad legal experience. Still, his opponent, Jacqueline R. Medina, is no slouch. She has focused more specifically on criminal law, first as an assistant district attorney in her hometown of Taos and then on criminal appeals at the Attorney General’s Office. Her trial experience, understanding of the appellate rules and work on some 150 appeals is impressive. For Position 2, Jacqueline R. Medina. Whichever candidate loses, we hope a future governor considers appointing him or her to the bench.
Position 3: Another great matchup, with District Court Judge Briana H. Zamora, a Democrat, seeking to unseat the Republican appointee, Judge Emil Kiehne. Both are more than qualified and capable. Zamora would bring to the position an understanding of what the work of the appeals court means to those trial judges across the state who daily administer justice in our courts. She has presided over 20,000 cases in 10 years and knows the criminal procedure and the rules of evidence. That seems an important perspective to have, although Kiehne’s expertise in appellate law is impressive as well. For Position 3, Briana H. Zamora.
Position 4: This race features GOP Judge Daniel Gallegos, who has been serving on the appeals court since he was appointed in January. He has roots in Anton Chico and grew up in Albuquerque before heading off to college and law school at the University of Notre Dame. Before returning home, he served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps as a military prosecutor and later came back to be an assistant district attorney and then a staff attorney at the Court of Appeals. His opponent, Megan Duffy, is the only one of the candidates not to have been certified as qualified by the bipartisan judicial selection committee; that’s not a judgment on her qualifications — she is bright, thoughtful and able. But she was a tad short of the years of legal practice required by the state constitution when the positions came open. If she does not win this race, we expect to see Duffy again as a candidate for a judicial position. She is impressive. Gallegos, though, has five years of working at the Court of Appeals before being appointed judge; that’s more institutional memory the court needs now. For Position 4, Daniel Gallegos.
Position 5: Democrat Jennifer Attrep, who Gov. Martinez appointed to the appeals court in January, is running unopposed.
Retention: Voters should retain J. Miles Hanisee to the Court of Appeals. Appointed to replace Celia Castillo in 2012, Hanisee won election in 2014 but must be retained by 57 percent of voters to remain on the bench. He is fair, accurate and comes to court prepared, according to the state Supreme Court’s Judicial Performance Evaluation. Retain J. Miles Hanisee.
Current appointee Justice Gary L. Clingman, a Republican, is opposing Judge Michael E. Vigil, a Democrat who sits on the Court of Appeals. Clingman, a former District Court judge from Hobbs, was appointed by Gov. Martinez to replace retiring Justice Edward Chavez earlier this year. Once more, voters have two well-qualified candidates. We give the advantage to Vigil’s years on the Court of Appeals and his understanding of the Supreme Court’s role, both as the court of last resort and the place where other judges and attorneys turn for guidance. For the Supreme Court, Michael E. Vigil.