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Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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The Second Judicial District Family Court is asking parties operating under child-custody and timesharing orders to collaborate on ways to make those arrangements work without court intervention during the COVID-19 crisis.

The court first made that request in a memo distributed to family law attorneys on March 23, 2020, the day before Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued the statewide Stay-at-Home Order. 

“We know that our Governor is going to announce a Stay-At-Home Order to further combat this pandemic.  We are asking that attorneys and litigants work diligently to find agreements regarding custody and timesharing exchange Orders,” the memo reads.

“These are trying times for everyone, the court included. We are limited in our ability to hold hearings,” said Debra Ramirez, Presiding Judge of the Second Judicial District Family Court. “Of course, we will hold emergency hearings when necessary, but we hope families can come together to navigate these issues on their own until this crisis passes.”

The court’s March 23 memo on this matter is available here.

 


During the COVID-19 crisis, the Second Judicial Court will not require notary public certifications on applications to waive fees for filing a legal action, when those applications are based on the individual’s inability to pay.

The waived fees typically include court filing costs and the cost of having notice of the action served on the opposing parties. Waiver of these fees is known as granting the party “free process.” The granting of free process, which can happen in civil or domestic relations cases, requires filling out an application verifying that the applicant does not have sufficient income to pay the filing fees. Under normal circumstances, a notary public would have to certify that the individual submitting the application is also the person whose signature appears on the form.

“The temporary suspension of the requirement to have these applications notarized is a recognition of the fact that a lot of the places where someone would go to have a form notarized are closed during this crisis,” said Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Stan Whitaker. “We don’t want that to prevent people from having access to the court.”

Free Process application packets can be obtained in the following ways:

       •    Downloading it from the court’s website
       •    Emailing the court’s Center for Self-Help and Dispute Resolution at albdselfhelp@nmcourts.gov. 
       •    Picking it up in person on the first floor of the Second Judicial District courthouse, 400 Lomas, Blvd. NW.

You also can call the Center for Self-Help and Dispute Resolution with questions at 505-841-6702. 


The Second Judicial District Court has implemented new screening procedures to prevent individuals who may have contracted the COVID-91 virus from entering the courthouse.

Signs are now in front of the courthouse, at 400 Lomas, NW, instructing people to ask themselves three questions before entering. The questions are:

  1. Have you been in contact with anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19?
  2. Over the past two weeks, have you developed flu-like symptoms, such as a cough, a fever, or shortness of breath?
  3. Have you traveled outside of New Mexico within the last thirty days to any high-risk area?

No one who can answer “yes” to any of those questions should enter the courthouse. Instead, they can look at the second sign posted at the entrance listing phone numbers for all divisions of the court. Individuals can call the appropriate number to find out how to resolve for which they were coming to court.

These procedures also are in effect at the Second Judicial District Children’s Court Building at 5100 Second St. NW, as well as the offices housing the court’s Pretrial Services programs.

“These screening procedures are part of our ongoing effort to balance public safety with the need for the court to fulfill its constitutional duty of ensuring that all individual members of the public have access to the judicial, even in times of crisis,” said Second Judicial District Chief Judge Stan Whitaker.

Chief Judge Whitaker issued an administrative order outlining the new screening procedures on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. He also issued an order detailing additional precautionary measures the court is taking to guard against the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The precautionary measures mirror those ordered by the New Mexico Supreme Court and include:

  • Suspending criminal jury and civil jury trials that have not started.
  • Conducting all court proceedings in a manner to minimize contact among people in the courtroom. This includes, when possible, conducting proceedings by telephone and video to eliminate the need for attorneys and litigants to be physically present in a courtroom.
  • Limiting the number of inmates transported from jails to courthouses for hearings.
  • Implementing enhanced cleaning procedures in the courthouse.
  • Suspending out-of-state work travel for court employees and requiring a 14-day self-isolation period for employees and judges who have traveled to a COVID-19 high-risk area, and imposing a self-isolation period for employees and staff who travel out-of-state on personal business starting March 18.

For updates on the Second Judicial District Court’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the court’s website at https://seconddistrictcourt.nmcourts.gov or follow the court’s Twitter feed @SJDCNEWMEXICO.


The New Mexico Supreme Court has suspended all criminal jury trials that have not started and imposed additional precautionary measures against the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

New Mexico’s appellate, district, metropolitan and magistrate courts remain open.

The Court previously suspended civil jury trials. Criminal jury trials, which are not under way, will be suspended until April 30 or further notice by the Court. Presiding judges have the discretion to proceed with a criminal jury trial if there is an exceptional circumstance.

“The precautionary measures imposed by the Judiciary today will provide additional safeguards for all New Mexicans while allowing necessary court functions to continue,” Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura said. “Especially during a public health emergency, courts must not close because they deliver vital services required in our justice system to ensure community safety.”

“Courts play a critical role in our society ensuring compliance with the rule of law. This includes hearing the initial pleas of those arrested and charged with crimes, making constitutionally required decisions on the pretrial detention of defendants and issuing restraining orders to protect victims of domestic violence. These are among the crucial functions the Judiciary will continue to provide New Mexicans with necessary public health precautions at courthouses,” Chief Justice Nakamura said.

Other than jury trials, all other court proceedings will continue with appropriate precautions in place for those who must visit and work in courthouses.

Newly imposed measures by the Judiciary will:

  • Temporarily suspend the ability of lawyers to excuse a judge from presiding over a criminal and civil case. Suspending the peremptory excusal rules allows courts to better manage their caseloads within precautionary directives and distribute cases among all available judges.
  • Encourage judges to use their discretion to conduct all court appearances, such as arraignments and plea proceedings, by telephone and video to eliminate the need for attorneys and litigants to be physically present in a courtroom.
  • Require courts to screen visitors to courthouses and deny access to people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or who have traveled to a COVID-19 high-risk area.
  • Allow local courts to accept case filings by email or fax from self-represented litigants.
  • Permit local courts to allow lawyers to file by email or fax for case types that currently cannot be submitted electronically.
  • Tighten travel restrictions on judicial employees and judges to require a 14-day self-isolation period for those who travel out-of-state for personal reasons. The courts previously halted all work-related out-of-state travel.

The Court today authorized municipal courts to close and previously allowed county probate courts to close.

The Judiciary previously restricted the number of people who gather in any courthouse location, including courtrooms and hallways, to no more than 25 to maintain appropriate social distancing as recommended by public health authorities. That is more restrictive than the current requirements of the state’s public health emergency order prohibiting gatherings of 100 or more people.

A Summary of the Court’s action related to COVID-19 is available here. The Supreme Court’s orders on precautionary measures and judicial employee travel are available via the following links:


The Second Judicial District Court’s Pro Bono Committee has canceled its next two Civil and Family Law Clinics due to concerns related to the coronavirus.

While there is no evidence that the virus has affected anyone in the court, the Pro Bono Committee is taking this step out of an abundance of caution. The Pro Bono Committee is comprised of judges and staff from the Second Judicial Court and staff from New Mexico Legal Aid.

The Civil and Family Law Clinics, at which citizens get free consultations with attorneys, normally take place on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at the Second Judicial District Courthouse, 400 Lomas, NW, in Albuquerque.

The cancellations apply to the Family Law Clinic scheduled for March 18 and the Civil Law Clinic scheduled for April 1.   

“This is not what we want to do given that the need for legal assistance does not go down during a pandemic,” said Second Judicial District Family Court Judge Jane Levy, who also co-chairs the Pro Bono Committee. “But for the safety of the public and the staff of the court and Legal Aid, we need to skip remainder of March and the first clinic in April. We hope to resume the regular clinic schedule after that.”

Additional Measures in Place

In addition to these steps at the Second Judicial District Court, State Supreme Court Justice Judith K. Nakamura has announced measures that courts across New Mexico are taking to guard against the potential spread of the Coronavirus.

“The Judiciary’s responsibility to ensure constitutional protections are available to those who need them has been especially important during difficult times in our history,” Chief Justice Nakamura said. “We are working closely with state and local governments and taking steps to ensure that courthouses are safe for jurors, litigants, lawyers, judicial employees, judges and all members of the public.”
Among the measures directed by the Supreme Court:

  • Courts will limit the number of people summoned to jury duty. Typically, courts will limit jury pools to no more than 25 people. If additional jurors are needed, courts will keep them in separate rooms even if it requires lawyers to separately question jury pools.

  • Jurors who have traveled to areas with a high concentration of confirmed coronavirus cases should contact their court before reporting for jury duty. Jurors who are ill will be immediately released and sent home

  • Judges will postpone civil jury trials that have not yet started unless there are exceptional circumstances.

  • Judges will conduct all proceedings in a way that minimizes contact among people in the courtroom including the use of telephone and technology.

  • Criminal proceedings will continue.

  • Out-of-state work travel is suspended for judicial employees and judges.

  • The Judiciary has limited the number of inmates that may be transported from jails to courthouses for hearings.

  • Courts are working with those responsible for cleaning and maintaining courthouses to ensure compliance with enhanced cleaning requirements.

The Chief Justice strongly encourages people who need to visit courthouses to follow the recommendations of health officials to protect themselves and others from the spread of coronavirus. Those include washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and maintaining a safe social distance from others.

“Our courts will continue to carefully monitor developments related to the coronavirus and will take additional steps as necessary to minimize public health risks of New Mexicans who require justice services,” said Chief Justice Nakamura.

Click here to View PDF Version
 


Supreme Court Justice Shannon Bacon and Second Judicial District Chief Judge Stan Whitaker were among the dignitaries who spoke at the official dedication of “A View from Gold Mountain,” the sculpture erected as a monument to New Mexico’s Asian American Community.

The sculpture, which stands on the west side of the Second Judicial District Courthouse, was formally dedicated on January 11, 2020, following an eight-year effort spearheaded by Dr. Siu Wong, president of the Albuquerque Chapter of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance.

After gaining financial support from state and county officials, Wong was tabbed to head a committee that issued 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 committee unanimously chose “A View from Gold Mountain,” a multi-piece sculpture created by the artistic team of Cheryll Leo-Gwin and Stewart Wong.

The artists said they considered the history of the Yee Shun case, as well of the experiences of all Chinese Americans of that era, in both creating and naming the sculpture.

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,” Leo-Gwin said. “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.”

At the dedication, Dr. Wong said since the project to secure the monument began it has “evolved to represent and be inclusive of our diverse society and population in New Mexico and the nation.”

Judge Whitaker echoed that sentiment, saying the sculpture celebrates the “resilience, tenacity and redemption power” of the Asian American spirit, as well as the spirit of all groups who at one time were intentionally marginalized.

Justice Bacon said it is fitting the monument recognizes a historic legal ruling issued in a New Mexico court, as the state continues to be on the cutting-edge of civil rights law. She referred to the New Mexico Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in State v. Zamora that said courts must find interpreters for individuals who speak a language other than English, when those individuals are called for jury service.

“New Mexico, as in Territory v. Yee Shun, was once again on the cutting edge as the first state to recognize this civil right,” Justice Bacon said.

Leo-Gwin said several aspects of the sculpture speak to the idea of various cultures uniting. She pointed, for instance, to a braid that runs down the center of the plumb bob that is the sculpture’s centerpiece. She said the braid represents the hairstyle that many Chinese Americans wore during the 1880s. “But bigger than that,” she said, “it represents all of our cultures braided together. That is the backbone of the sculpture and the backbone of the country.”

Click here to view a video from the dedication ceremony.


The Second Judicial District courthouse bustled with activity on a late-November Saturday morning. Judges presided over hearings, but they were not the somber proceedings that typically take place in courtrooms.

These hearings included children carrying balloons and teddy bears, smiles, laughs and hugs—and all parties left the courtroom happy. That is what happens on National Adoption Day—the day courts across the country host simultaneous large-scale adoption events. The goal is raising awareness of the 125,000 children in foster care nationwide waiting to find loving, permanent homes.

National Adoption Day started in 2000 when courts in nine cities opened their doors to finalize and celebrate adoptions of children in foster care. In 2019, National Adoption Day was Saturday, November 23. More than 400 Adoption Day events took place across the country, including the one in New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court.

“Presiding over adoption hearings is one of the most rewarding things I do as a judge,” said Marie Ward, presiding judge of the Second Judicial District Children’s Court. “I am very grateful to be able to participate with these children and these families for such an incredible thing as creating a forever family.”

An inspiring event

Judge Ward was one of six judges who presided over hearings during the Second Judicial District’s Adoption Day event. “We work hard throughout the year to finalize adoptions, creating permanent homes for as many children as possible,” Judge Ward said. “But National Adoption Day allows the larger community to come together around that effort. We also hope that seeing the joy in the faces of adopted children and their families will inspire others who may not have considered fostering and adopting before to open their hearts and homes to the many children still waiting to be adopted.”

People appear to be getting that message. The Second Judicial District Court finalized more than 90 adoptions on National Adoption Day 2019, nearly doubling the number of 56 adoptions during its 2018 event.

The adoptive parents included Nicolle Wallace. She was a foster parent to five children who—after National Adoption Day—now officially call her mom. “I started out fostering children, then decided I wanted to adopt,” Wallace said. It was obvious from watching the interaction among them that the time Wallace cared for this brood as a foster parent had made them a real family.

“It has been great to watch their personal growth,” Wallace said. “This day has been a long time coming, but it is wonderful. I am really blessed; they are all really good kids.”


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


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

Many Self-Represented Litigants Resolved Cases Quickly at Peter Johnstone Day

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."
 
 
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