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Second Judicial District Court

Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them, these shadows are the prisoners’ reality. One day the prisoners manage to break out of their shackles and discover the true reality around them. Before my externship  at the Second Judicial District Court (SJDC), my view of the law and the legal profession was like that of the prisoners, merely shadows of the true reality. Throughout my externship at the SJDC, I became “unshackled” and my understanding of what the law truly was began to take form. 

Whether it was discussing the “political thicket” in Baker v. Carr with the Court Executive Officer, analyzing bills in the current legislative session for the Court’s General Counsel, or witnessing closing arguments in high-profile cases, my experience at the SJDC was invaluable. Although in the classroom students are taught the law and provided examples on how it would apply, nothing compares to being fully immersed in one of the busiest district courts in the state. From employment law to the rules of evidence, I was able to see real world (insert cave pun here) application of previously bewildering legal concepts. Additionally, this judicial externship provided me with a complete rotation of the various divisions of the Court (Family, Civil, Criminal, and Children’s Court), an experience I believe every law student should have. I was given an opportunity to expand my love for constitutional and employment law, while also discovering a new love for criminal and family law. 

Although I gained a plethora of knowledge on the law in the various divisions, I believe the greatest gift this externship gave me was the knowledge of the legal profession and how to treat others in the legal community. The way the SJDC not only treats its staff, but the public at large, is nothing short of extraordinary. Everyone at the Court has the best interests of the community at heart, providing a perfect reminder of why I decided to pursue my dream of becoming an attorney in the first place, to help others. With this new outlook on life and the law, I am now prepared to explore this amazing new world!

Richard Azar served his judicial externship in the Second Judicial District Court during the Spring Semester of 2019. He will start his third year of UNM Law School in the fall. 

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Thirty-six family court cases were fully resolved during the Second Judicial District Court’s recent Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se/Pro Bono Mediation Day.
That number represents 75% of the total cases considered that day. The parties reached partial settlements in five additional cases, pushing the event’s overall success rate to 85%.  
The Second District Court hosts Peter Johnstone day each year to offer self-represented litigants a chance to work through family law issues free of charge with a mediator’s assistance. Peter H. Johnstone, a family law attorney in Albuquerque, was one of the early organizers, and the event was named in his honor following his death in 2013.
There are two requirements for parties wishing to participate in a Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se/Pro Bono Mediation event:
      • Neither party can be represented by an attorney
      • Cases must be referred by the Family Court. 
This year, the court referred 48 cases. Seventy-one attorneys and 16 University of New Mexico law students volunteered to mediate the cases. 
"Peter H. Johnstone Day is a win-win for everyone involved,” said Aja Brooks, director of the Second District Court’s Center for Self-Help and Dispute Resolution. “The parties receive free facilitation services from top-notch attorneys, and by the end of the day, most reach some sort of agreement with regards to their family law issue. The attorneys get the satisfaction of giving back; most of them joined the practice of law to help people, and that is exactly what they get to do on Peter Johnstone Day."

A delegation from Afghanistan—including a prosecutor and a police officer—visited the Second Judicial District Court in April as part of a trip to learn how U.S. courts handle domestic violence cases.

The group—which also visited courts in Baltimore, Cincinnati and Detroit—hopes to find best practices that they can apply  in Afghanistan’s judicial system. Global Ties ABQ, a non-profit organization the works to foster ongoing relationships between Albuquerque residents and international visitors, sponsored the Albuquerque trip. 

At the Second Judicial District Court, the Afghan delegation observed a domestic violence hearing and then shared their impressions with the hearing officer, Rosemary Traub, and Family Court Presiding Judge Debra Ramirez over lunch.

Interpreters facilitated the conversation. The prosecutor, Abdul Haq Anabia, said having a judge or hearing officer render a decision in a domestic violence case is a stark contrast from the process in Afghanistan, where all domestic violence such cases are resolved through mediation. 

Judge Ramirez said culture plays a role in the different manners in which courts handle domestic violence cases in the U.S. versus Afghanistan.

“In Afghanistan, the focus is always on reuniting the family,” Judge Ramirez said. “In the U.S., even though we like to see families work out their differences and remain together, there are times when we consider it appropriate to draw a line and say reunification is not possible—and that line is when violence is occurring.”

Despite the differing approaches, both the Afghanis and their American counterparts agreed their overriding goal is to decrease incidents of domestic violence.  Haq Anabia said the mediation process in Afghanistan offers families support to help curb violence.

“Overall, we are trying to decrease violence against women in Afghanistan,” said Gita Qaderi, a female police officer in Kabul.

Qaderi also expressed appreciation for the number of programs in the U.S. that promote awareness of domestic violence and offer services and resources for survivors. “We need to have more programs that build awareness,” she said. “I am hoping to go back and focus on such programs.” 


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Self-represented parties working through family law issues such as divorce, child custody and timesharing have a chance to settle their cases free of charge at the Second Judicial District Court’s Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se/Pro Bono Mediation Day.

On Friday, April 12, 2019, roughly 65 to 70 family law attorneys will be at the Second District Courthouse serving as volunteer mediators for parties who want to resolve their differences through negotiation rather than litigation.

The Second District Court has been hosting the Pro Bono Family Law Mediation Day for several years. Peter H. Johnstone, a family law attorney in Albuquerque, was one of the early organizers, and the event was named in his honor following his death in 2013.

Meredith Johnstone, Peter’s daughter who also is a family law attorney, said this day represents two of her father’s firm beliefs:

      • The legal profession should always strive ensure that people with limited financial resources have access to the system; and,
      • Attorneys should, as much as possible, work in collaborative fashion to resolve cases rather than in engage in drawn-out, expensive litigation.


“My dad was very much a supporter of Pro Bono services, and as I worked with and learned from him, he made sure that I supported those types of services as well,” Meredith Johnstone said. “He also believed that having attorneys work in collegial fashion actually improved the level of service they provided to clients. That is why I love this day so much. It brings the family law community together around those two ideas.”

On average, 80% of the parties who participate in Peter Johnstone Day reach a full settlement of their cases by the end of the mediation session. Typically, an additional 10% to 15% reach at least a partial settlement.

“It’s always better—especially when children are involved—for parents to resolve issues on their own terms, rather than have solutions forced on them by the court,” said Judge Debra Ramirez, Presiding Judge of Family Court. “We are fortunate to have attorneys in our community who are willing to help people who can’t afford legal representation find creative ways to resolve their cases.”

There two requirements for parties wishing to participate in a Peter H. Johnstone Pro Se/Pro Bono Mediation event:

        • Neither party can be represented by an attorney.
        • Cases must be referred by the Family Court.

Parties can be referred to the event by submitting a request to the judge presiding over a current case, or by making the request when opening a new case. The court’s Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution can provide information for how to submit those requests for future Peter Johnstone Day events.

The Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution is located on the first floor of the Second Judicial District Courthouse at 400 Lomas Blvd., NW, in Albuquerque. The center is open 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Monday through Friday.

The Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution can be reached by telephone at 505-841-6702.

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Assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) is a civil court ordered program of delivering community-based treatment to adults with serious mental illness who are found by a judge, in consideration of prior incarcerations or hospitalizations, to be unlikely to adhere to prescribed treatment on a voluntary basis. It is a 2-way commitment that requires treatment providers to serve individuals at the same time it commits individuals to adhere to their treatment plans. Through the ritual of court hearings and the symbolic weight of a judge's order, AOT seeks to leverage a "black robe effect," motivating the individual to regard treatment adherence as a legal obligation.

Funded by a four-year grant with the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the City of Albuquerque’s AOT Program will serve a maximum of 60 individuals in the first year. Referrals for this program will primarily be from inpatient hospital facilities (Petitioner), such as the University of New Mexico’s Psychiatric Center and Kaseman Hospital. This program provides psychiatric and intensive comprehensive case management services, as well as monthly sessions with a judge to individuals with serious mental illness (Respondents) ordered for treatment by the Second Judicial District Court. The AOT case manager monitors the participant’s progress and compliance with the treatment plan in accordance with the court order. The AOT case manager reports to the court on the client’s condition and attends all court staffings and hearings.

The City of Albuquerque (City), through the Department of Family and Community Services, invites attorneys to submit letters of interest/proposals in accordance with specifications found at to establish a pool of qualified attorneys available to provide cost-effective, competent representation in the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Program in the Second Judicial District consisting of Bernalillo County. The City is seeking attorneys to provide legal representation of Petitioners and Respondents as independent contractors. The City will select a pool of attorneys whose proposals indicate that they meet all of the minimum qualifications and requirements contained within the Request. All services will be performed in conjunction and in association with the AOT Program. Cases will be assigned to Respondent’s counsel following the filing of a petition in the Second Judicial District Court, for those clients requesting representation. Offerers must be in good standing to practice law by the New Mexico Supreme Court, and an active member of the Bar. Proposals submitted pursuant to this Request will be accepted by the City on an ongoing basis until further notice in order to maintain a current listing of pre-qualified attorneys available to perform services for the AOT Program. The City will endeavor to review each proposal and respond to the Offeror within thirty (30) days of receipt of the proposal. A proposer who meets all of the City’s minimum qualification and requirements will be added to the pool of attorneys available for the assignment of work. Please contact Ellen Braden, Division Manager, Behavioral Health and Wellness with questions at (505) 768-2788 or

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

Data-Driven Tool To Help Judges Assess Defendants' Pretrial Risk

The Second Judicial District Court and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court have implemented a new data-driven  risk assessment tool known as the Public Safety Assessment, or PSA, to provide objective information for judges in determining conditions of release for criminal defendants awaiting trial.

Judges began using the PSA June 12 as part of a multi-year effort to strengthen the criminal justice system in the state’s largest county.

The PSA uses nine factors to produce two risk scores: one measuring the likelihood that an individual will commit a new crime if released pending trial and another evaluating the likelihood that he or she will fail to return for a future court hearing. The tool also flags defendants that present an elevated risk of committing a violent crime. Risk scores fall on a scale of one to six, with higher scores indicating a greater level of risk. The PSA does not require an interview with a defendant and is more up to date than the risk assessment that the courts have been using since 2015.

Even after the PSA has been implemented, judges will retain all of their authority and discretion. They will continue to make decisions on bail issues, including whether to require a bond, release defendants on their own recognizance, or impose certain restrictions.

"Implementing a cutting-edge risk assessment continues our team effort in Bernalillo County to ensure a fair and effective criminal justice system," said Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Nan Nash. "Judges make difficult decisions each day as they follow the law in setting pretrial release conditions for defendants. The PSA will provide judges with reliable, objective information to consider in those decisions."

"In addition to identifying defendants who pose a threat to the community, the PSA will also help judges safeguard citizens' rights by preventing unfair jailing of defendants who don’t," said Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Edward L. Benavidez.

New Mexicans overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment last year to reform the state’s bail system. Voters reaffirmed the constitutional principle that people awaiting trial who are not dangerous or a flight risk will not be held in jail just because they cannot afford a money bond. Judges were also authorized to hold the most dangerous defendants in jail without bail pending trial, but that can occur only if the State requests the defendant be held and after an evidentiary hearing where the State proves that no release conditions will reasonably protect the safety of any other person or the community. A determination to hold a defendant in jail without bail does not solely rely on a defendant's risk assessment score.

"Our #1 priority is making our community safer. The Public Safety Assessment gives judges an evidence-based tool to help distinguish high-risk, potentially violent defendants from low-risk ones for critical pretrial decisions in the criminal justice system. We can achieve a win-win by increasing public safety while saving taxpayers the high costs of jailing defendants who pose little threat to the community," said Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins.

The PSA initially will be used in felony cases, and will be implemented later for misdemeanor cases.

Created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) in partnership with leading criminal justice researchers, the PSA was developed using the largest, most diverse set of pretrial records ever assembled—1.5 million cases from approximately 300 jurisdictions across the United States. Researchers analyzed the data and isolated factors that most often exist for defendants who commit a new crime, commit a violent crime, or fail to return to court if released before trial. The factors are:

  • Whether the current offense is violent;
  • Whether the person had a pending charge at the time of the current offense;
  • Whether the person has a prior misdemeanor conviction;
  • Whether the person has a prior felony conviction;
  • Whether the person has prior convictions for violent crimes;
  • The person’s age at the time of arrest;
  • Whether the person failed to appear at a pretrial hearing more than two years ago;
  • How many times the person failed to appear at a pretrial hearing in the last two years; and
  • Whether the person has previously been sentenced to incarceration.

The weight given to these factors and the formula used to calculate the risk scores is available on the LJAF website. It does not use information that is considered potentially discriminatory, such as a person’s ethnic background, income, level of education, employment status, neighborhood, or any demographic or personal information other than age.

The PSA is currently being used, or is in the process of being implemented, in approximately 35 jurisdictions across the country, including statewide in Arizona and several other states, as well as some of the nation’s largest cities. Initial results indicate that the tool is helping to protect public safety while reducing jail populations and freeing up funds for other government priorities. In Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, for example, the jail population dropped nearly 20%, with no increase in crime, in the year after the PSA implementation began in the spring of 2014. In Lucas County, Ohio, the percentage of pretrial defendants released by the court on their own recognizance has nearly doubled, pretrial crime is down, and the percentage of defendants who skipped their court date has been dramatically reduced since the county began using the PSA in January 2015.

LJAF is making the PSA available for free to Bernalillo County as well as the other jurisdictions that are implementing the risk assessment tool.

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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.