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Second Judicial District Court

Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Nan Nash will retire on December 31, 2018. It marks the end of a 25-year career with the court that started when then-attorney Nan Nash was hired as part-time director of Court Alternatives. Judge Nash has held many positions with court, including Special Commissioner of Domestic Violence and Child Support Hearing Officer. Former Governor Bill Richardson appointed Nan Nash to the Family Court bench in 2003. She joined the Civil Division in 2007. Her colleagues elected her Chief Judge in April of 2014. Before officially stepping down, Judge Nash took some time to reflect on what has been a truly outstanding public service career.

Question: What initially sparked your interest in the legal profession and eventually the judiciary?

Judge Nash: I was not one of those people who always wanted to be a lawyer. In fact, growing up I do not even recall knowing any lawyers. I graduated from Indiana University with a degree in environmental biology. Then one day I found myself a divorced single mom in need of a way to support two kids who were 4 and 5 years old at the time. Given my strong communications and writing skills, law school seemed like a good idea. I was accepted to the Indiana University Law School. When I graduated, I went to work as a deputy city clerk. I also worked for the Bloomington City Council. However, I had lived out west a few years earlier, and knew I wanted to come back. I applied for jobs in Albuquerque and got an offer from a law firm here.

My then new husband, David, and I decided to make that move. I worked at that law firm for five years, doing primarily insurance defense work. I learned a lot, but I never really thought that was the right path for me. I started looking for other opportunities and saw an ad in the Bar Bulletin for a part time Director of Court Alternatives at the Second Judicial District Court. That was like an epiphany for me. I applied for the job and got it, and that started my 25-year career at this court. The part-time job as Director of Court Alternatives eventually became full time. I later became a Special Commissioner for Domestic Violence and a Hearing Officer in Family Court. After doing that a while, I thought it would be interesting to be a judge. I applied for an open seat on the Family Court bench and was appointed by Governor Bill Richardson in January of 2003.

Question: What is it like to be the Chief Judge of New Mexico’s largest and busiest district court?

Judge Nash: When I first took my seat on the bench after being a court staff attorney and a hearing officer, I discovered that being a judge entailed so much more than I had ever imagined. I had a similar experience upon becoming Chief Judge. I was fortunate to have come up through the ranks. That gave me an understanding of court operations. I was thankful for the opportunity to help shape this court. However, I encountered some unexpected challenges as Chief Judge. I had been a judge in Family Court and in the Civil Division. I was somewhat surprised about the level of media interest in criminal cases, as well as the level of criticism there would be of the court.

Question: Reflecting on your twenty-five years of service with the Second Judicial District Court, can you tell us about the role of the judiciary in our democracy and trends you have seen in this area?

Judge Nash: I have been reading the biography of Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the Founding Fathers who fought for an independent judiciary. The judiciary has an important role in providing checks and balances for other branches of government as well as providing an orderly way of resolving disputes among citizens. Current trends related to the judiciary in today’s society are concerning. The clamor for judges to respond to public opinion is a threat to the independence of the judiciary. It is a problem when the Chief Justice of United States Supreme Court feels compelled to step out of his role to respond to comments made by the President. Granted that is not the first time an elected official has tried to exert influence over the judiciary. That is a unique part of our democracy. Every citizen has First Amendment rights. However, if the judiciary does succumb to making rulings in response to public opinion, that would be a tragedy for our society and system of government.

Question: What are the proudest accomplishments of your career?

Judge Nash: There are a number of things I am proud to have been a part of over my 25 years with this court. Starting with my tenure as Director of Court Alternatives, where we built and strengthened many of the Court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution programs. I also am proud to have been a part of this court’s first Drug Court team, which was the first treatment court in New Mexico. In the Domestic Violence Division, Judge Whitaker and I—while serving as Special Masters—developed a pilot program for emergency orders of protection. We were appointed by the New Mexico Supreme Court to co-chair a judicial task force to standardize orders of protection. As presiding judge of Family Court, I helped develop and strengthen the Self Help Center, which has given citizens greater access to the justice system. As a judge in the Civil Division, I am proud of my decision in a case involving physician aid in dying. Even though the State Supreme Court ultimately reversed my decision, I believe I was right in recognizing a person’s right to seek the end of their suffering by choosing to have a physician’s aid in dying.

Question: What would you like the public to know about how courts work, and the responsibilities of being a judge?

Judge Nash: A judge’s job is to give all parties equal consideration in every case before them, and to render unbiased decisions in a timely manner. The public sometimes does not understand that. They also sometimes have difficulty understanding how difficult it is for judges to make decisions. Many factors come into play in almost every case. Some citizens choose to represent themselves; some lawyers do a better job of arguing cases than others. Judges have to overlook those things and apply the law to the facts of the case. That takes a lot more strength and steadfastness than most people realize.

Question: What do you think you will miss the most about being a judge?

Judge Nash: Being a part of shaping the court and by extension having a positive impact on the community. I also have become extremely close to my colleagues in the court. I will miss the camaraderie with my fellow members of the bench, as well as the court staff.

Question: What parts of the job do you think you will miss the least?

Judge Nash: Waking up in the middle of the night worrying about a court policy or thinking about a case. I will not miss the resistance to reform that we have encountered. I realize there will always be resistance to change, especially in a system like the courts, which typically moves at a glacial pace. However, I think a lot of the resistance we encountered was based in fear, and lot of that fear was due to the intense public scrutiny the court is always under. I definitely will not miss that scrutiny.

Question: What words of wisdom would you impart to attorneys just joining the profession?

Judge Nash: I would tell them two things. The first was imparted to me when I was new attorney. That is once established, a poor reputation is very hard to overcome while a good reputation, once established is fairly easy to maintain. The second thing I would tell them is that the flexibility that this profession provides is an incredible gift. If you are not finding satisfaction in the area in which you are currently working, do something different until you find that satisfaction.

Question: What are you looking forward to doing the most in your retirement?

Judge Nash: Not having so much on my plate. While serving a Chief Judge the past four and a half years, many things I did regularly have gone away. I am looking forward to hiking, biking, traveling, playing and listening to music, and of course spending more time with my three grandchildren.

Question: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Judge Nash: Courts, in general, are progressive institutions that seek to increase every citizens’ access to justice. That certainly is what this court is about, and I am extremely grateful to have worked here with so many wonderful people.


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

 


For the third consecutive year, the Second Judicial District Court has organized a Giving Tree Project. The court has placed trees at three different locations:

  • The main courthouse, 400 Lomas Blvd NW;
  • The Juvenile Justice Center, 5100 2nd Street NW; and
  • The offices of the Judicial Diversion and Supervision Division, 401 Roma, NW.

These sites are collection points for items that will go to the four charitable organizations that are collaborating with the court for this year’s Giving Tree Project. Those charitable organizations are:

  • APS Title I Homeless Project, which is collecting toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, grooming supplies, etc.) for students through the age of 18;
  • New Mexico Veterans Integration Center, which is collecting clothing for veterans;
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which is collecting clothing and toys for kids; and
  • Animal Humane New Mexico, which is collecting food, bedding, and other items for companion animals in need.

Members of the public may drop off non-cash donations (no gift cards either) at any of the court locations through December 19, 2018. Court officials will host a brief ceremony to hand over donations to the charities at 10:00 AM Thursday, December 20, 2018.


It started as a pilot program in Sandoval County District Court with one paid staff member assisted by a group of interns. Five years later, the Family Advocacy Program is a joint initiative of the Second and Thirteenth Judicial Districts and the Administrative Office of the Courts. It also has full paid staff in Sandoval, Valencia and Bernalillo Counties.
Along with this growth, the program is garnering recognition for outstanding work. This past August, the State Bar of New Mexico named it Outstanding Program for 2018. A month later, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the program a $7.7 million grant that will enable its expansion into San Juan and McKinley counties.
The Family Advocacy Program uses a multi-disciplinary team approach to representing parents in juvenile abuse/neglect proceedings.   
The team—consisting of an attorney, social worker and peer mentor—works to help the parents make the necessary changes to reunite with their children and maintain a stable, healthy lifestyle going forward.
Since its July 2013 inception, the program has supported 101 cases, involving 47 parents and 205 children. So far, 82 of those cases have been closed, with only four resulting in new cases being opened against the same parents.
Program director Dominica Sisneros-Montano, a licensed master social worker, said the program works because “we take the time to engage with clients as humans and do in-depth case management.”
That engagement includes social workers accompanying clients to court hearings and visits with their children. Program social workers also help clients fill out paperwork to get counseling or other services needed to make the lifestyle changes judges want to see before reuniting parents with their children.
“The quality of our work is intense,” Sisneros-Montano said. “We are helping people navigate the legal system and mentoring them so they can become better parents. The result is happier, more stable families, which is good for the entire state.”
The State Bar of New Mexico and the Department of Health and Human Services are not alone recognizing the program’s positive impact. The American Bar Association asked the program to develop a training model that courts in other jurisdictions can use to establish similar programs. In addition, the program’s social workers were invited to serve on the Steering Committee of the ABA’s National Alliance for Parent Representation, the only national legal organization dedicated to improving legal representation for parents in child welfare cases.
“All of this recognition is a result of our evidence-based practices and performance data,” Sisneros-Montano said. “We are showing fast time to family recovery, lower rates of termination of parental rights, and higher rates of guardianship.”
Court officials are excited about the program’s potential, especially in light of the federal grant. “In awarding this grant, the federal Department of Health and Human Services is recognizing the program’s success and expressing confidence that we can do even more to improve the health and well-being of more New Mexico families," said Marie Ward, presiding judge of the Second Judicial District’s Children’s Court Division.
“AOC hopes to take the program statewide if it continues to show success,” said AOC Director Artie Pepin. “The grant funding will permit courts to hire additional social workers and parent mentors to serve more clients, provide training and develop a database to help in evaluating how well the program is working.”

 

Court’s Family Advocacy Program Earns State Bar Award, New Federal Grant  - .PDF Version


A person experiencing a mental health crisis is more likely to be arrested than referred to treatment, and time in jail often worsens the mental health condition, according to research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
New Mexico Courts are taking concrete steps to address their communities’ mental health needs. The Third Judicial District Court launched an Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Program in partnership with Doña Ana County, with federal funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Under the program, started in July 2017, a district court judge can order individuals involved in civil proceedings to participate in a structured treatment program developed by a local behavioral health provider. Court and county officials expect the program to reduce the number of people hospitalized or incarcerated due to mental health issues.
The Second Judicial District Court is teaming with the City of Albuquerque and UNM’s Health Psychiatric Center to pilot an AOT court.

In anticipation of a fall launch, a delegation from the District Court and the city recently traveled to Ohio to observe two established court-ordered outpatient treatment programs. “With New Mexico’s recent enactment of assisted outpatient treatment legislation, it is important that we have this opportunity to observe how other state courts have implemented court-ordered treatment programs,” said Second Judicial District Judge Beatrice Brickhouse.

“It was extremely helpful to observe both the court’s role in this process and the actual interactions between the judge and the participant,” said Ellen Braden, who manages the City of Albuquerque’s behavioral health and wellness division. “In Ohio, the judge’s engagement with the participants clearly supports the individual’s recovery.”   
 Hospital-Based Hearing Room  
The Twelfth Judicial District Court is taking an innovative approach to serving individuals with mental-health related issues.
In April of this year, judges in the Twelfth Judicial District began hearing cases in a hearing room housed inside the behavioral health wing of the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo.
The judges participate in an alternating monthly schedule that has a judge conducting hearings at the hospital each week. The district’s four judges share in the rotation to help ensure the success of this model.  
The Gerald Chapman Regional Medical Center opened the behavioral health unit in Alamogordo in 2016. It provides in-patient services to individuals from around the state. Community, justice partner stakeholders and advocacy groups have joined forces to share ideas and find solutions for people with mental health-related issues.
The hospital-based hearing room is the latest of these ideas.
“The outcome has meant more efficient and timelier case resolution practices, as well as a more constructive and less disruptive judicial process for individuals who may be in need of a treatment guardian, involuntary commitment or a guardian/conservator appointment,” said Court Executive Officer Katina Watson.

 

District Courts Tackling Mental Health Issues - .PDF Version


On September 17, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention met to sign the document they had spent the previous four months drafting.

That document, the U.S. Constitution, outlines the basic structure of our nation’s government. The first three articles of the constitution identify three co-equal branches of government with separate and distinct powers and responsibilities.

The Constitution outlines the separation of powers: the Legislative branch makes law; the Executive branch executes the law; and the Judicial branch interprets and applies the law.

September 17th of each year is designated Constitution Day in acknowledgement of the day our current government was formed. This year, as we mark the 231st anniversary of the Constitution’s signing, we should reflect on the true role of what is commonly referred as the third branch of government—the Judiciary.

The framers of the constitution sought to make the Judiciary an independent branch of government that could go about its work of interpreting laws and settling legal disputes without having to consult members of the other branches of government—or survey public opinion—before making decisions. The desire to keep the Judiciary free from such influences is why U.S. Supreme Court Justices—once appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate—serve life terms.

By contrast, State Court Judges do not serve life terms. They typically are elected to the bench and face retention elections every six years. Still, they are fair and impartial arbiters of the law, carrying out their duties without regard to political whim or popular opinion.

Differences between Branches of Government

Members of the executive and legislative branches, at both the federal and state levels, regularly interact with lobbyists and members of special interest groups. They also are likely to review public opinion polls and news stories when deciding what position to take on a particular law or policy. The members of those branches of government are elected to represent the public; they require public input to do that properly.

The Judiciary plays a different—but very important—role in our Constitutional form of government.

The Judiciary is not a political or representative branch of government. Its duty is to uphold the law, and make decisions in accordance with the law, even when those decisions go against popular opinion. Judges resolve disputes based on the law and the facts presented in individual cases.

The Judiciary also is the branch of government that protects the civil rights and liberties granted to all citizens within the Constitution. Part of that job is ensuring that the other branches of government recognize the limits of their powers.

Sometimes, making an unpopular decision will cause members of the public to label a judge a liberal or a conservative. In extreme cases, as we have seen recently in New Mexico, judges have been threatened with bodily harm by people who disagree with their decisions.

Judges know they are bound to follow the laws of the land—the U.S. and State Constitutions, as well as state and federal laws. They also must adhere to rules of court procedure and a judicial code of conduct, which strictly forbids letting personal feelings enter into their decision making.

William H. Rehnquist, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice stated: “A Judge is bound to decide each case fairly, in accord with the relevant facts and applicable law, even when the decision is not the one the home crowd wants.”

That is exactly how the framers of the Constitution expected judges to behave when they laid out the structure of our current form of government 231 years ago. The framers, in essence, charged the Judiciary with protecting our constitutional rights. We should remember that not just on Constitution Day, but every day.

 

 

Constitutional Day 2018 - .PDF Version


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 www.nmkidsmatter.org.



​Archived News

REAL ID Free Legal Fair Coming to Albuquerque Convention Center, Saturday, Nov. 17

A host of professionals—from attorneys and judges to representatives from the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division and the Bureau of Vital Records—will be at the Albuquerque Convention Center on Saturday, November 17, 2018 to help people navigate the REAL ID process.
This service is free of charge, courtesy of the Second Judicial District Court’s Pro Bono Committee, the New Mexico Legal Aid Volunteer Attorney Program, the City of Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico School of Law. 
 
By October 1, 2020, anyone wishing to board an aircraft or enter a federal facility where an ID is required must have a driver’s license or ID card that complies with provisions of the Federal REAL ID Act of 2005. Obtaining a REAL ID requires presenting a specific set of documents verifying one’s identity. 
 
The REAL ID Legal Fair will run from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM in West Building of the Albuquerque Convention Center, directly across from Civic Plaza.  Anyone seeking help should bring the appropriate identification documents. A list of acceptable documents is available on the Motor Vehicle Division’s website. 
 
“We want to thank the City of Albuquerque for allowing us to hold a REAL ID Fair in the convention center,” said Shannon Bacon, Presiding Judge of Second District Court’s Civil Division, and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee. “There was an overflow crowd at the previous fair we held at the Barelas Community Center. That proves many people still need help understanding this process. A bigger venue like the convention center will allow us to help more people.” 
 
The biggest challenge for most people seeking a REAL ID is ensuring that all required documents meet certain specifications, such as all listing names exactly the same way.  In some cases, applicants have had to go through the process of legally changing their names or having a new birth certificate issued. Experts at the REAL ID Legal Fair can help determine if any of those steps are necessary. They also will be able to provide assistance in completing those steps. 
 
The professionals at the fair will provide the following services:
  • Identify the documents needed for each individual
  • Review documents brought to the Fair to ensure they meet REAL ID requirements
  • Inform individuals if they need additional documents 
  • Assist in filling out REAL ID application forms
  • Provide referrals for legal representation in court, if it is required.  
For individuals who have all of the required documents, New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division staff will be able to issue REAL IDs on the spot. Others should leave the fair with a clear understanding of what steps they need to take to obtain a REAL ID within a reasonable amount of time
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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.