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Council appoints probate judge Tuesday

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County > Six candidates vie to fill vacant position

By Arin McKenna

First in a two-part series.

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The main order of business at the Aug.13 council meeting is selecting someone to fill the unexpired term of Probate Judge Ellen Hong. Six candidates submitted letters of interest to the council.

The Los Alamos Monitor spoke with each of the candidates this week.

Christine Chandler spent a large portion of her career with Los Alamos National Laboratory Office of Laboratory Counsel, serving as both senior attorney and practice group leader. Chandler currently is co-owner of Chandler Law.

“I think I bring something that’s a little unique to the position in that I know the county so well, I have a pretty good idea of where the probate court fits into the structure,” Chandler said.

“And I have a long-standing interest in trying to participate and advance the community.”

Chandler would like to play an educational role if selected.

“I think it’s an office that people are clueless about until an issue comes up. So my thought is I’d do a fair amount of public outreach to try to have people understand what the whole probate process is and how the office works,” Chandler said.

The position would also allow Chandler to participate in the New Mexico Association of Counties, something she would like to do.

Chandler cited both her legal and administrative experience as assets.

“A legal background is not required, but is certainly helpful. Because you can read the probate manual, but you want to understand where things come from and why.

“And sometimes things aren’t always right in a manual, or maybe not appropriate for our small community. So when you have the background, you can look at it and say, is this really right? And if it is right, is it appropriate for how we are set up.”

Chandler managed support staff for the LANL office and handled records management. Working with the clerk’s office to properly maintain records would be part of the probate judge’s responsibilities.

Philip J. Dabney is a partner and attorney at Holland & Hart, LLP, in Las Vegas, Nev. Dabney resides approximately half the year in Los Alamos and the other half in Las Vegas. He has served as a short trial judge, justice of the peace pro tempore, hearing officer on issues related to child abuse and neglect and as an arbiter. He is also a licensed attorney in New Mexico.

“My interest is along the lines of a public servant,” Dabney said. “I’m interested in doing it because I’ve got experience as a judge and I’m a relative newcomer to the community, so this is also a way to become more ingrained in the community. It’s a way to kind of introduce myself to the community in a way that helps the community out.”

Dabney became connected to Los Alamos through his wife, long-time resident Elizabeth Bluhm. He does not believe that only residing in the county part time would interfere with his ability to perform his duties.
Dabney has training in trust, estate and probate process and has litigated will contests and trust issues.

“With the judicial experience, I have a clear understanding of what the role of a judge is in terms of dealing with parties. It appears that this particular position deals only with informal probate matters,” Dabney said. “So a judge has to have the ability of to determine what matters are properly before the internal probate court and what matters should be transferred to district court or not accepted into the internal process.

“I think I’ve got the capability and the experience level to be able to ascertain when the jurisdiction is appropriate and when it’s not.”

Yvonne M. Deshayes is currently lead tax attorney for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, telecommuting from Los Alamos. She also served as payroll manager for LANL and has more than 25 years experience as a certified public accountant.

“What caught my eye about the position was that in my job with Berkeley Lab and when I was at Los Alamos, I used to process all the beneficiary payments. I thought it was very similar.

“And I do want to volunteer. I’m a member of Kiwanis, and I volunteer quite a bit through that, but I also was looking for something outside of that.

“What I bring to the table, I think, is I know how to research the law. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a CPA. I can practice in tax court if I have to. I do a lot of research in my current role at the lab already. And I felt that I could serve the people well.

“And then I understand the tax side of things that relate to that. So I think that’s very critical, too.”
Deshayes also cites her organizational skills and ability to follow through as assets she would bring to the position.

“I don’t wait for people always to call me and say, ‘Oh, I’m bringing it in.’ I just follow through and make sure they do what they need to.”

Although DeShayes works full time, she believes her job has enough flexibility to allow her to perform her duties if selected.

“I really do want to serve the community in some kind of role, and I think this would be a good mixture of my skill set. I just really think it’s a good match. I think that I can provide value.”

Read interviews with Charles E. Knoop, Timothy H. Langworthy and Sharon A. Marinuzzi in Tuesday’s Los Alamos Monitor.