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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. 

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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.

Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) started June 3 as a pilot program in courts in the Sixth and Ninth Judicial Districts. It begins June 10 in the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque and on June 17 in the Metropolitan Court in Bernalillo County.  The service will be expanded statewide later.

“New Mexico courts are committed to advancing judicial excellence through initiatives such as Online Dispute Resolution,” Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said in announcing the online service. “The innovative online service for settling cases costs less and is much faster than going to trial in a dispute over unpaid debts. With programs like ODR, our courts are able to expand public access to justice services, reduce the time to resolve some civil cases and improve court efficiencies.”

With ODR, the parties in a debt or money due lawsuit can negotiate at their convenience through online exchanges from home, a business or any location with internet access using a computer, smartphone or mobile device. The online system asks questions of each party about what they want to potentially resolve the lawsuit.

Offers are exchanged and if an agreement is reached, the online system automatically prepares a settlement document and electronically files it with the court. Both parties may agree to request the help of a trained mediator during the first two weeks of negotiation. If no agreement is reached after 30 days, the online negotiation ends and the case moves forward in court.

“Growing numbers of New Mexicans are representing themselves in civil lawsuits. Online Dispute Resolution helps self-represented parties by making it easier to navigate a legal system that the public often finds complicated and confusing,” said Second Judicial District Judge Jane C. Levy, who led a judicial team on the ODR implementation.

The ODR system also responds to the public’s increasing desire to conduct business online.

 “People increasingly want to take care of their business online. Our courts understand that,” said Sixth Judicial District Court Chief Judge Jennifer DeLaney. “Online Dispute Resolution offers a way for people living in rural areas to avoid traveling long distances to court hearings if they have filed a lawsuit over owed money or they are sued because of a debt.”

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Donna Mowrer said, “This is a cost-effective way for businesses and individuals to negotiate settlement agreements for disputes over debt and money due. It can take months, or sometimes years, for a civil lawsuit to proceed to trial.”

Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Sandra Engel said, “Electronic commerce companies like eBay and PayPal have long used online dispute resolution for disputes between buyers and sellers. To better serve the public, courts are embracing the same technology for certain civil lawsuits.”

About 31,000 debt and money due lawsuits were filed statewide in the past year, from April 2017 through April 2018.  To learn more about the new online service, including watching a video featuring the Chief Justice, visit the ODR website of New Mexico Courts.

State Bar Names District Court’s Judicial Supervision and Diversion Program “Outstanding Program” for 2019

The State Bar of New Mexico has named the Second Judicial District Court’s Judicial Supervision and Diversion Program (JSDP) its “Outstanding Legal Program” for 2019.

This annual award recognizes outstanding or extraordinary law-related programs that serve the legal profession and the public. The State Bar selected the Second District Court’s JSDP for this award based on its use of nationally recognized, evidence-based methods for establishing public safety risk and appropriate supervision and oversight for defendants awaiting trial.

Staff members of the Second Judicial District Court’s Judicial Supervision and Diversion Program. The State Bar of New Mexico recognized the group’s work to improve the criminal justice system with Program of Year Award for 2019.  


These evidence-based approaches have fostered a new culture with JSDP that is helping to both improve public safety and increase fairness within the criminal justice system. These approaches include the adoption of scientifically validated tools that help determine the proper level of supervision for individuals placed under JSDP’s authority, as well as referring individuals to treatment courts and diversion programs when appropriate.

JSDP supports four treatment courts that help identify root causes of behavior that brings individuals into the criminal justice system, and then teaches them skills for coping with those issues so they can live productive, crime-free lives going forward. One of those treatment courts, the Felony Repeat Offender DWI Court has proven especially effective at addressing New Mexico’s unique struggles with felony DWI offenders. Since its 2013 inception, this court has graduated 35 individuals with a zero-percent recidivism rate.  

 The other treatment courts JSDP supports are:

  • Mental Health Court, which strives to identify individuals in need of mental health services and get them into a treatment program in the early stages of their entrance into the criminal justice system.
  • Young Adult Court, which relies on recent research pointing to the need for unique methods of understanding and changing the behavior of people between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Healing to Wellness Court, which is a track within Adult Felony Drug Court that incorporates holistic healing strategies into its treatment programs.

“The JSDP is very deserving of the Outstanding Program of the Year Award,” said Second Judicial District Chief Judge Stan Whitaker. “The dedicated individuals in that program are having a major positive impact on our community by employing methods that are improving the criminal justice system and boosting public safety.  We also owe a major debt of gratitude to the Bernalillo County Commission for funding much of JSDP’s operations. That commitment helps make Bernalillo County a better and safer community.”

"The Bar Association has recognized the outstanding commitment and hard work that Second Judicial District Court judges and staff put into establishing innovative JSD programs that are proven to make our communities safer,” said Bernalillo County Commission Chair Maggie Hart Stebbins.  “JSD programs support the county's efforts to prevent new criminal activity by diverting high-need individuals who typically cycle in and out of the criminal justice system but who can break that cycle when given the right treatment and support."

JSDP will receive its Outstanding Program of Year award at State Bar of New Mexico’s annual meeting on August 2, 2019

Multiple staff members in the Second Judicial District Court Clerk’s Office recently earned compliments from members of the public for providing outstanding customer service.

Those employees, who all happen to work in the Civil Division of the clerk’s office, are:

  • Patricia Serna
  • Sandy Stegeman
  • Catherine Chavez
  • Dragica "Dora" Bozovic
  • Shellene Romero

All showed extreme patience and caring attitudes in helping customers navigate the court system.

One pro se litigant said Patricia Serna was “absolutely wonderful in helping me sort through my mess and put it all in order.”

Another customer praised Sandy Stegeman for not giving up when the initial search for information on a case proved difficult. “I am beyond grateful to her for making my life so much easier today,” this customer said. “She was extremely patient, and it is obvious that she cares about her job.”

A customer who was shaken up after receiving a court summons had similar words for Dragica "Dora" Bozovic. “I was not sure what to do when I received the summons,” the customer said. “Dora was so nice and pleasant in explaining things to me. She did not rush me; I just wanted to put in a good word for her.”

Catherine Chavez was especially nice and professional in offering assistance, according to a citizen who contacted the clerk’s office by telephone.

A retired police officer who said he has dealt with court clerks around the country said Shellene Romero provided the best customer service he has ever received in any court setting. “You need to be sure to keep her,” he said.

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 District Court’s Giving Tree Sprouts Hundreds of Gifts for Local Charities

Second Judicial District Court employees and members of the public showed great generosity in donating to local community service groups through the Court's third annual Giving Tree Project.

Representatives from the four agencies accepted hundreds of gifts during a handoff ceremony at the District Court’s main building on Thursday, December 20, 2018.

The four charitable organizations are:

  • APS Title I Homeless Project, which collected toiletries (soap, shampoo, tooth paste, tooth brushes, deodorant, grooming supplies, etc.) for homeless students through the age of 18;
  • New Mexico Veterans Integration Center, which is accepted clothing for veterans;
  • New Mexico Kids Matter, (formerly known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which collected clothing and toys for kids who are in foster care due to family court situations; and
  • Animal Humane New Mexico, which collected food, bedding, and other items for companion animals in need.

The agency representatives thanked the court for sponsoring this project, which provides much needed support for these organizations during the holiday season.

“When I think about my own children, they have a lot of support and receive a lot of gifts at Christmas,” said Eric Martinez with New Mexico Kids Matter. “The kids we serve don’t have that level of support. Many of them are separated from their families, and they are told “no” a lot. To have a chance to receive gifts like this will be tremendous for them.”

In addition to sending people to the gift exchange, Animal Welfare New Mexico also brought Mindy, a lab mix who is available for the adoption. The agency also set up a table with information on more of its adoptable pets.

If you would like to donate to, or just learn about these organizations, follow the links below to their websites.

Albuquerque Public Schools Title I Homeless Project

New Mexico Veterans Integration Center

New Mexico Kids Matter

Animal Humane New Mexico


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