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Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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

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

The New Mexico visitors were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. https://adr.nmcourts.gov/odr.aspx.


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


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

SJDC Paralegal Alma Lerma Receives Volunteer Award

Alma Lerma, a paralegal with the Second Judicial Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution, recently received an award at the 2nd Annual Awards Luncheon for the Volunteer Attorney Program sponsored by New Mexico Legal Aid.  Ms. Lerma received the Non-Attorney Volunteer Award for 2016.

“We are so proud to see Alma recognized for her ongoing commitment to the pro se community. Her empathy and respect for others are unparalleled as she continues her service to the judiciary and to the public,” said Torri Jacobus, Director of Center for Self Help and Dispute Resolution for the Second Judicial District Court. 

Alma has been with the Second Judicial District Court since 2002.  Ms. Lerma earned her Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies and is certified as a Language Access Specialist.  Ms. Lerma assists Spanish speaking customers who utilize services from both the Civil Law Clinic and the Family Law Clinic.  She was commended for her patience and continually going beyond the call of duty to assist someone with understanding the protocols and the next actions required to move a case forward.  Alma’s acceptance of her award touched everyone as she included all volunteers as part of what it takes to get the job done.

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