Judge vacancy nets three applicants

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Trio will answer questions at council meeting tonight

By Carol A. Clark

The window of opportunity closed at 5 p.m. Friday to submit letters of interest to fill the probate judge vacancy in Los Alamos County.

Three residents with varying degrees of experience applied to replace Janet Foster who resigned following her Sept. 27 appointment by county council to serve as county clerk.

Foster fills the vacancy left by longtime County Clerk Mary Pat Kraemer who resigned Aug. 31 due to retirement pension issues.

As probate judge, Foster already worked in the county clerk’s office and had served as the deputy county clerk for three years.

Council members Tuesday evening are scheduled to appoint one of the following applicants to serve out the remainder of Foster’s four-year term, which ends Dec. 31, 2010:

•    Y. Ellen Hong has lived in Los Alamos County for 33 years. She is self employed and is a certified public accountant. She has served as treasurer on a number of civic boards including United Way, the Council on Cancer and Sombrillo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

•    Barbara Yarnell is a lifelong resident of Los Alamos. She is an instructor at UNM-Los Alamos where she teaches a variety of art programs. She is a volunteer with the Self Help Empty Bowls Project.

•    Ralph Damiani has lived in Los Alamos County for approximately five years. Formerly  the publisher at the Monitor, Damiani is unemployed. He serves on the United Way and Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve boards.

The successful applicant will earn $3,505 per year.

Foster explained during an

interview Monday that each new probate judge must complete an initial two-day training program held in Santa Fe. Every probate judge in the state also must attend annual refresher training, which includes information on new laws and changes to existing laws.

“The most challenging part of being probate judge is the emotional aspect that’s attached to the death and the estate,” Foster said.

While some months brought no cases at all, other months could involve as many as six cases at once, she said.

“The enjoyable part of being probate judge was the people and being able to show them probate wasn’t as intimidating as they may have thought,” Foster said.

Foster also found officiating at marriages to be an enjoyable part of the job, she said. During her nearly three years in office, Foster married people at ceremonies held all over the county including Fuller Lodge, the rose garden, Overlook Park and in backyards.

The three applicants vying for Foster’s former job must attend Tuesday’s council meeting and be prepared to answer questions from council members regarding their letters of interest and qualifications.

Under the county charter and state law, any qualified person older than 18 and a resident of the county may serve as probate judge.

The county’s Web site defines probate as the judicial process for transferring the property of a person who has died, also known as a decedent. The property is transferred according to either:

•    The decedent’s will; or

•    if the decedent dies without a will, according to New Mexico’s laws of intestate succession. The probate court appoints legally qualified persons, called personal representatives, to manage and settle the decedent’s business affairs. Personal representatives pass the deceased person’s estate property, real and personal, to the rightful recipients. Rightful recipients might include heirs, devisees named in a valid and current will or creditors.

No matter when or where a will was originally made, residents would use the Los Alamos County Probate Court if:

•    The decedent was domiciled in Los Alamos County at the time of death, meaning Los Alamos County was the permanent place of decedent’s abode; or,

•    The decedent lived outside New Mexico but owned property in Los Alamos County.

Formal probates, determinations of heirship, contested cases and trust matters cannot be heard by the probate court, but instead must be filed in the district court.

In addition to handling informal probate cases, the probate court provides general information on process, record, title searches and information about court history.

The council meeting tonight will be available for Internet streaming via PAC-8. It will also be broadcast on PAC-8 beginning at 7 p.m.