This website cannot be viewed properly using this version of Internet Explorer.

To ensure your security while viewing this site, please use a modern browser such as Chrome or update to a newer version of Internet Explorer.

Download Chrome (Made by Google)
Update Internet Explorer (Made by Microsoft)


Second Judicial District Court

Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

English Español

Most Popular Pages

Páginas más visitadas

News Updates

“A View from Gold Mountain” is the name of the sculpture on the west side of the Second Judicial District Courthouse. It recognizes the Asian American community’s historical relationship with the justice system.

The Asian American Monument Committee unanimously chose this work by the artistic team of Cheryll Leo-Gwin and Stewart Wong. The Bernalillo County Commission is overseeing funding for the project.

The monument committee had put out a nationwide call for a piece of art to reflect the Asian American community’s experiences interacting with the legal system, starting with the landmark case of the Territory of New Mexico v. Yee Shun. That 1882 case was the first in which testimony from an Asian American was considered valid in a United States court of law.

The ruling was somewhat bittersweet for members of the Asian community. On one hand, the ruling by New Mexico Supreme Court acknowledged that Asian Americans could take and abide by an oath to tell the truth when testifying in court—even if they adhered to a non-Christian religion. Previously, U.S. courts had only recognized oaths taken by practicing Christians as valid for giving legal testimony.

On the other hand, the testimony given by an Asian American was the most important piece of evidence leading to the murder conviction of Yee Shun, who many historians now believe was innocent. Yee Shun was sentenced to life in prison for a murder that took place in Las Vegas, New Mexico on February 24, 1882. Shortly after hearing the appeal of his conviction had been denied, Yee Shun committed suicide in his cell in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been transported to serve his sentence.

The monument committee asked artists to consider this historical context when creating the work they would propose installing outside the district courthouse. The winning team said they considered this history in not only creating their work, but in naming it as well.

Seeking the Pot of Gold

“During the Gold Rush, people in China called America the Gold Mountain. They came to America to seek their fortunes and find the pot of gold to send or take home,” the artists wrote in the proposal accompanying a model of their work. “Immigrants from other regions also came to that Gold Mountain for similar reasons. Instead, like Yee Shun and the Chinese, because of their skin color, culture or other differences, they found hardship, starvation, death and disillusionment. The pot of gold was more often than not only an elusive dream.”

Despite these hardships, immigrants from Asia and elsewhere persisted and built lives for themselves and their families. Over time, the judiciary and other branches of government came together to offer these citizens a measure of justice and equality.

A large multi-colored plumb is the central component of the View from Gold Mountain sculpture. The artists call it a metaphor for the sense of justice that all Americans expect from their government. “A plumb sways for a time but ultimately finds balance,” the artists’ proposal stated. “While the Yee Shun case did not find that balance or justice during his lifetime, the scales of justice ultimately found equilibrium and balance in changing the law to provide access to justice for the Chinese and all who call America home.”

In addition the plumb, the sculpture features a stone-carved seat in the shape of a classical Chinese cloud pattern personifying hopes and dreams. Similar clouds, representing dreams past, present and future are on the plumb as well as the courthouse wall. There also is an inscription on the ground near the plumb with these words from Confucius in a spiral pattern: A journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step.

“This is to encourage people to take that first step to make a difference, and to fulfill their own dreams,” Leo-Gwin and Wong said.

Since its selection for installation outside the courthouse, Leo-Gwin and Wong’s sculpture has garnered much positive attention, including recognition in a national online magazine dedicated to the arts.

Albuquerque, New Mexico, December 6, 2019 — The Honorable Cindy Leos of the Second Judicial District Court has been named 2019 Judge of the Year by the Albuquerque Bar Association.

In announcing the award, the ABA said its selection committee reviewed several nominations, and “in the end, Judge Leos’s efforts this year presiding over Young Adult Court made her the unanimous choice for her impact on the community.”

Young Adult Court is an innovative program established in 2017 in response to research that shows humans’ reasoning ability is not fully formed until the age of 25, and many individuals in this age group who commit crimes can turn their lives around if given the proper support. The program is a partnership among the Second Judicial District Court, the Offices of the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department and several agencies that provide substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and other support services. The court is proving successful at helping young people address issues—such as drug abuse and lack of mental health treatment—that are driving some of the crime in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

The program takes 18 to 24 months to complete, during which time participants must engage in treatment, attend weekly court sessions, provide random urinalysis samples and demonstrate a willingness to make positive changes in their lives. To date, three individuals have graduated from Young Adult Court—all of whom have quit drug habits that proved to be an underlying cause of their criminal activity. Twenty-two other individuals are currently in the program, with an additional 15 undergoing the screening process.

“It was clear from her first day on the bench that Cindy Leos was going to be an outstanding judge,” said Stan Whitaker, Chief Judge of the Second Judicial District Court. “She has demonstrated day after day that she has a clear understanding of her role as a judge and the need to make sure that litigants on both the prosecution and defense side of a case are treated respectfully and fairly in her court. She was the ideal choice to preside over Young Adult Court, and it is no surprise that the Albuquerque Bar Association is recognizing her as Judge of the Year.”

The bar association will formally present the award to Judge Leos at its annual meeting/luncheon at 11:30 AM on Thursday, December 12, 2019 at the Embassy Suites in Albuquerque. The association also will present the Attorney of the Year Award to Vince Ward, who the group said was selected, in part, for his “excellent and tireless advocacy of Chelsea Manning.”

Judge Leos said she is “incredibly honored to receive the Albuquerque Bar Association Judge of the Year Award. It is my understanding that I was selected for this award in large part due to my work with the Young Adult Court. Presiding over Young Adult Court has been one of the best parts of my job and to be recognized with this prestigious award for doing something that I get such joy out of is simply phenomenal.”

Click here to View PDF Version

In the fall of 2017, Adrian Concini stood before a judge facing a possible nine-year prison sentence for two counts of trafficking controlled substances. At his arrest, Concini admitted to police that he was selling drugs primarily to support his own habit.

Twenty-two months later, Concini—now completely sober and gainfully employed—stood next to a judge who had just dismissed his charges, due to his successful completion of the Second Judicial District’s Young Adult Court program.

“You have truly changed the path of your life,” Second Judicial District Court Judge Cindy Leos said to Concini during the August ceremony marking his graduation from Young Adult Court. “You have become a genuine, hardworking, responsible adult. You also have gone beyond the program’s requirements by becoming a mentor to others. You are a true inspiration.”

Judge Leos presides over Young Adult Court. Concini is the first of what she expects to be many graduates of a program that began in 2017, with the aim of rehabilitating—rather than incarcerating—18- to 25-year-olds facing certain felony charges. Twenty-five other individuals are currently in the program.

“We expect 18-year-olds to make adult decisions, but the neuroscience shows that impulse control is not fully developed until a person reaches their mid-20s,” Judge Leos said. “When we combine that with the challenges that many people in this age group face with employment and housing, we are looking at a perfect storm for criminal activity.”

That does not mean Young Adult Court participants get a free pass for illegal behavior. Individuals are referred to Young Adult Court by judges, attorneys or pre-trial supervision officers who encounter them at the early stages of their cases. A referral triggers a three-step screening process that includes a background investigation, a face-to-face assessment with a court clinician and a case review by the Young Adult Court team members.

Upon acceptance into the program, participants must adhere to all program rules, which include a weekly court appearance before Judge Leos and strict requirements to attend counseling sessions and submit to drug testing. Willfully violating these conditions will get a participant expelled from the program, with their case returning to the regular criminal court system.

Concini admits that his transformation did not happen immediately, and he found himself back in jail once following a relapse in his drug rehabilitation. “What finally made me snap was the real fear of going away for nine years,” he said. He feared that time would end his relationship with his fiancé and his daughter. That motivated him to make sobriety the chief focus of his life. Once he made that commitment, adhering to the program’s rules became much easier.

At his graduation ceremony, Concini said life is much better because he can now honestly say he is a “hardworking man who can take care of myself and my family.”

“This is the only program of its kind in New Mexico, and it is proving successful,” Judge Leos said at the graduation. “The participants in Young Adult Court aim to graduate the program in 18-24 months living a sober lifestyle with stable housing and employment—contributing to the overall safety of our community.”

The Second Judicial District Children’s Court hosted a group of international travelers with a specific interest in juvenile justice this month. The group observed delinquency hearings in Judge William Parnall’s courtroom, and met with all three of the Children’s Court judges to learn more about how the New Mexico juvenile justice system compares with systems in their respective countries.

The U.S. State Department sponsored the group’s trip to New Mexico as part of its International Visitor Leadership Program. The program builds mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through short-term visits to the U.S. for current and emerging foreign leaders, according to the State Department’s website.

The New Mexico visitors were:

  • An attorney from Azerbaijan who specializes in defending the rights of disadvantaged groups, such as members of the LGBTQ community and child survivors of trafficking and domestic violence
  • A child protection officer with Welfare Department of Malaysia
  • Vice President of the Nepal Magar Association Central Committee, which works to protect the human rights of marginalized women in Nepal
  • An attorney who practices civil law while also advocating for Venezuelan refugees and migrants in Trinidad and Tobago
  • The founder and executive director of Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, which works to fight the practice of ritual child sacrifice in Uganda.

The group was impressed with their exposure to New Mexico’s juvenile justice system, with each of them saying they were working to have some aspects of our system introduced in their own countries.

Syed Azmi Alhabshi, the Malaysian child protection officer, noted that a good part of the court hearing centered on trying to find appropriate places for juveniles to get mental health treatment. “There are not a lot of places for children to get treatment in Malaysia,” he said.

Shalini Sankar, the attorney from Trinidad and Tobago, said the organizations she works with are pushing the government to clean up what she described a “horrible conditions” in that country’s juvenile detention facilities.

Peter Michael Sewakiryanga from Uganda pointed out the “real collaboration between the judge, the defense attorney and the prosecutor” in seeking workable solutions for the juveniles appearing in court. He said that dynamic is starting to take hold in Uganda, and gave the example of how it helped an 8-year-old from being held criminally liable after adults ordered him to kill a one-year-old as part of a witchcraft initiation. “Our court system is based on punishment,” he said. “We are trying to change that.”

Judge Parnall said he was happy to have the group in his courtroom, and he welcomed their questions about the proceedings. However, he said, it was more enjoyable taking them lunch at Garcia’s Kitchen, a restaurant near the courthouse that serves New Mexican cuisine.

“I told them that we have our judges’ meeting at Garcia’s and they seem surprised that judges would expose themselves to the community in that fashion,” Parnall said. “I said, we live in this community. It is important for people to see judges as more than strangers who sit behind a bench making decisions that affect their lives."

One worked as a copy editor and taught English in Northern Italy. The other earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry while also playing in the marching band.

These are the judicial externs from the University of New Mexico School of Law who worked at the Second Judicial District Court this summer. Despite traveling different routes to the study of law, the two agree that their experience at the Court confirmed that they are now on the right career path.

“Judicial externships provide students the opportunity to directly work and interact with judges and court staff. In so doing, students gain unique insight into the legal system from this side of the bench. The students engage in supervised research and writing and spend months observing numerous proceedings in every division, including jury trials. We work to facilitate sound development of their legal skills, and to assist students in understanding the many facets of trial, and appellate, practice here at Second Judicial,” said Judge Erin O’Connell.

“This externship has advanced my legal education and given me more confidence to enter the legal profession moving forward,” said Kori Nau, the former biochemistry major and marching band member at Texas Tech University. Nau worked closely with Elizabeth Garcia, the Court’s general counsel, and its primary champion of the externship program.

The SJDC Judicial Externship Program has externs complete a rotation throughout all of the divisions of the court—the Civil, Children’s, Criminal, and Family divisions—as well as its specialty courts and diversion programs. Garcia serves as an extern supervisor and gives them assignments, like legal research memorandums, that they are likely to see in their early days as attorneys. That certainly was true for Nau, who did research on the New Mexico Structured Settlement Act for Presiding Civil Division Judge Beatrice Brickhouse, while also observing court hearings and trials.

Jena Ritchey, the other summer extern, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Middlebury College in Vermont, before returning home to New Mexico and a copyediting job with the University of New Mexico Publishing Press. After a stint teaching English in Northern Italy, she enrolled in law school.

Ritchey spent her externship in Judge O’Connell’s Chambers, where she handled projects ranging from researching the new standard for review of landlord-tenant cases to drafting an appellate decision for a Workers’ Compensation appeal. Ritchey also observed hearings in all of the Court’s divisions. The prevalence of self-represented litigants in civil cases had a dramatic impact on Ritchey. “It gave me a sense of the pressing legal issues and great need facing New Mexicans,” Ritchey said.

As they head into their second year of law school, Nau and Ritchey will be colleagues again on the New Mexico Law Review. Ritchey also will work as a legal writing tutor while spending whatever free time she can find performing improvisational theater. Nau will serve as a Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project fellow and as Vice President for Programs and Membership of the Women’s Law Caucus.

These two Albuquerque natives appear destined for promising legal careers. They also are certain to retain fond memories of their time at the Second Judicial District Court. “Being part of the Second Judicial District Court for just a few months was a learning experience that I will appreciate throughout my legal career,” Nau said.

“I am so glad I spent my summer at the Second Judicial District Court,” Ritchey added. “I would highly recommend that all UNM law students seek out an externship here.”

Five judges from Mongolia visited New Mexico in late June, stopping in at the Second Judicial District Court along the way.

Global Ties ABQ, a non-profit organization that works to foster ongoing relationships between Albuquerque residents and international visitors, coordinated the tour, which the judges saw as a great educational experience.

Judge Victor Lopez hosted the group’s visit to the Second Judicial District Court. The visit included a tour of the courthouse, observing a pretrial detention hearing, and meeting with four district court judges to discuss the differences between the U.S. and Mongolian court systems.

An interpreter, far right, facilitates conversation among judges from Mongolia and the Second Judicial District Court. The Mongolian Judges questions centered on the jury selection process, the administration of drug court and whether electing judges hampers judicial independence. Mongolian judges receive lifetime appointments.


The visit included a tour of the courthouse, observing a pretrial detention hearing, and meeting with four district court judges to discuss the differences between the U.S. and Mongolian court systems.

Mongolia, which descended from the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Kahn in 1206, was a Communist State from the 1920s until the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990. The country adopted a democratic constitution, which included an independent judiciary, in 1992. The president appoints all of the country’s judges to lifetime terms. 

Three of the Mongolian judges on the New Mexico visit sit on First Instance Civil Courts, which are equivalent to New Mexico’s District Courts. One judge sits on an Inter-Soum First Instance Civil Court, which is akin to New Mexico’s Municipal or Metropolitan Courts. The fifth judge is the Chief Judge of a Provincial Criminal Court of Appeals. That court is similar to the New Mexico Court of Appeals, though it only considers criminal cases. 

In their meeting with the District Court Judges, the Mongolian Judges questions centered on the jury selection process, the administration of drug court and whether electing judges hampers judicial independence. The interest in drug court stems from an increasing problem with drug addiction in Mongolia and a desire to find solutions other than simply throwing people in jail. 

”I was struck with the Mongolian judges' incisive questioning on the jury selection process and how drug court personnel monitor and assure defendants' sobriety,” Judge Lopez said. “They also showed great interest in understanding how New Mexico's partisan elected judges may nevertheless maintain judicial independence.” 

Judge Joshua Allison, who sits on the district court’s civil bench, told the group that judges in this system know that their decisions could leave them vulnerable in elections, but they have to ignore that possibility and adhere to the rule of law when deciding cases. In essence, he said, the Judicial Code of Conduct overrides political considerations.

Munkdhavaa Magnalbayar, the Mongolian Criminal Court of Appeals Judge, asked about a detailed exchange between the judge and the defense attorney during the pretrial detention hearing. “It seemed evident that the judge was going to detain the defendant,” Magnalbayar said. “Why did she have to have such a long discussion with the attorney?” Charles Brown, presiding judge of the district court’s Criminal Division, explained that judges in the U.S. court system are required to explain their decisions, and having that conversation with an attorney in open court adds to that transparency. 

Click here to View PDF Version

The State Bar of New Mexico has selected Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Stan Whitaker to receive the Justice Pamela B. Minzer Professionalism Award for 2019.

This award was renamed in honor of Justice Minzer in 2007 for her commitment to the concepts of civility and professionalism in the legal profession. The award recognizes attorneys and judges who exemplify the epitome of professionalism over long and distinguished legal careers.

In a letter informing Judge Whitaker of his selection for the award, State Bar of New Mexico Executive Director Richard Spinello wrote, “The recipients of this award are selected with special care for their service, dedication and commitment to the legal profession and the community. Your professional, ethical and personal conduct throughout your impressive legal career and on the bench make you most deserving of this special award.”

Judge Whitaker has indeed had a long and distinguished legal career, starting with his 1989 graduation from the University of New Mexico School of Law. After working as a civil litigator with two different Albuquerque law firms, Judge Whitaker joined the Family Crimes Unit of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office, where he prosecuted child abuse cases.

Judge Whitaker first came to the Second Judicial District Court as a Special Master in the Family Court Division. While in that job, Judge Whitaker joined Judge Nash, who also was a Special Master at the time, to develop a pilot program for emergency orders of protection. The two also lobbied the Supreme Court to standardize orders of protection across the state.

Judge Whitaker left the court to serve as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. He returned to District Court in 2006, accepting an appointment as a Family Court Judge. A year later, he moved to the Criminal Division. In 2018, Judge Whitaker’s peers elected him Chief Judge of District Court. He succeeded Judge Nash as Chief Judge on January 1, 2019. In addition to overseeing the court’s administrative and fiscal operations, Judge Whitaker continues to preside over a docket of criminal cases.

“No one embodies the principles that underlie the Justice Pamela Minzer Professionalism Award more than Chief Judge Whitaker” said Court Executive Officer James Noel. “He conducts court with calm focus and determination, and is respectful of litigants and attorneys, regardless of the case before him. He maintains the same demeanor with court staff in his role as Chief Judge. He truly exemplifies the qualities represented by this prestigious award.”

“I am both honored and humbled to be selected for this award,” Judge Whitaker said. “I am aware of the example Justice Minzer set in terms of treating everyone involved in the legal system—attorneys, judges and member of the public—with the utmost respect even when dealing with contentious issues. It means a lot to me that the members of the State Bar think I have at least come close to living up to that standard.”

Judge Whitaker will receive the Justice Pamela Minzer Professionalism Award at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting in August of 2019.

Cassie & Judge WardOne of the most recognizable faces at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Justice Center belongs to Cassie, a 6-year-old Labrador retriever.

Cassie interacts with families, especially those with children, who need her friendship. When a girl is called to testify about traumatic abuse or neglect, Cassie might sit at her feet to provide solace. Or Cassie might stay with a sobbing boy who has just been separated from his parents after being placed into protective custody.

"Cassie provides great comfort in the courtroom and gets smiles from everyone she meets when she is in the building," Children’s Court Judge Marie Ward said.  "She is a silent companion who has a way of removing the edge from very difficult situations."

Cassie has been a presence at the Juvenile Justice Center since late 2013. She is a specially-trained Courthouse CASA dog, a name that is derived from the acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Cassie was purchased using a grant by New Mexico Kids Matter, the CASA program in Albuquerque. CASA believes that every child who has been abused, neglected or is in foster care deserves to have a dedicated volunteer advocate speaking up for them in court.

"We are very fortunate to have Cassie, both as a resource and as a friend," Judge Ward said.  "She brings a lift to everyone she meets and she is especially valuable to the children who need her most."

Cassie was trained by Assistance Dogs of the West, a Santa Fe-based accredited service dog organization that also provides service dogs for the Veterans Court program. Courthouse dogs have been used around the country since 2003.

For more information about CASA please visit

​Archived News

Second Judicial District Court to Host Regional Mock Trial Competition

For three days in February, several judges in Bernalillo County's Second Judicial District will turn their courtrooms over to teams of aspiring attorneys vying for spots in the finals of the country’s most prestigious mock trial competition.  In addition, a number of district court judges have volunteered to preside over some of the mock trials.

Law students participating in mock trials develop important skills, including creative problem solving, effective collaboration, forming persuasive arguments, public speaking, critical thinking, and thinking on one's feet.

"The regional mock trial competition provides invaluable experience for the next generation of practicing attorneys.  It is important that the entire legal community and the judiciary come together and support these types of experiences for aspiring attorneys.  These events offer a unique opportunity for law students to practice trial advocacy skills in a courtroom setting," said Chief Judge Nan Nash.

Teams from law schools in five western states—New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming—will be competing in the regional round of the National Mock Trial competition.  The American College of Trial Lawyers has sponsored this national competition every year since 1975.  The top two teams from the regional round will compete in the national finals in Austin, Texas later this year.  The winning team at the national finals earns a $10,000 donation to its law school.

The Second Judicial District Court opened its courtrooms for this competition at the request of the University of New Mexico School of Law, the official host for the regional competition.

"We are honored to host the National Mock Trial Competition for the western region this year and deeply grateful to the all of the members of the judiciary and staff of the Second Judicial District Courthouse for their kind support of this important competition," said UNM School of Law Co-Deans Alfred Mathewson and Sergio Pareja.

Members of the local legal community also have volunteered to support this event by serving as bailiffs, witnesses and other necessary parties for the various trials taking place over the three days.  Special thanks go to the student competitors and to their coaches.

back to list

Disclaimer:  All efforts are made to ensure that information and links are accurate and current. However, users should not cite this information as an official or authoritative source and are advised to independently verify all information. Visitors to this site agree that the Second Judicial District Court of the State of New Mexico is not liable for errors or omissions of any of the information provided. Information contained on this web site should in no way be construed as legal advice. Users should contact an attorney if they require legal assistance or advice.