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League forum illuminates the law

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Judicial candidates discuss the courts

By Carol A. Clark

For the second time in as many weeks, sitting judges and attorneys running for First Judicial District seats pleaded their cases before local audiences.

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The Los Alamos League of Women Voters forum Tuesday evening drew all nine candidates and nearly filled the lecture hall at UNM-Los Alamos with community members.

LWV President Barbara Calef and Vice President Becky Shankland officiated the forum, drawing their line of questioning from both league and audience members.

“A judge should be beholden to no one,” said Division 2 sitting Judge Sarah Singleton when asked to define judicial independence.

Her opponent, Peter Culbert said, “In a nutshell, judges have to set aside all of their personal beliefs.”

When asked what improvements they see needed in the courts, both Division 5 sitting Judge Sheri

Raphaelson and opponent Yvonne Quintana focused on the “Pro Se” or representing oneself  in an issue.

“The big area that I see is we have a lot more pro se cases because of the economy,” Raphaelson said, adding that a public defender is only provided in criminal cases.

Quintana added, “Pro se needs are the greatest needs in the country and in this state. There are programs that are in place (to help people representing themselves) but we need to make them more widely available.”

Division 7 Judge David Thomson told the audience that the courts need more resources of which most should be concentrated on pro se cases.

In speaking of the importance of moving cases along, Thomson recalled someone saying, “Litigation cases are not like wine or cheese – they don’t get better with age.”

Opponent T. Glenn Ellington is a former Division 7 judge. “It’s manageable but it is a dire situation,” Ellington said in answering an audience member who questioned how the judges manage such overwhelming workloads. “You start at 8 a.m. and may not finish until 7 at night.”

Thomson said he sometimes has dockets every

30 minutes throughout the day.

Division 8 candidate Margaret Kegel said she has the reputation of being an absolute “demon docket manager” because she is highly organized.

Judge Mary Marlowe is the sitting judge in Division 8. “I can tell you domestic violence has reached a crisis in this state – I hear an average of 10 cases a day and am lucky some days to get a lunch break,” Marlowe said, adding that obtaining orders of protection is another big issue.

It took converting a hearing officer position into a judicial position in order to create Division 8. Marlowe presides exclusively over domestic violence cases, which are the only cases Division 8 currently hears. That will change in three weeks when the division will begin sharing the family court docket.

Gary Elion also is running for the Division 8 bench. “I filed two divorces today; one of which is going to pay me and one of which is pro bono,” he said, adding that about 50 percent of his cases run that way.

In describing challenging aspects of a judge’s job, Elion said people want judges to listen. Kegel said people want to feel that they’ve had their day in court.

Marlowe said her three-part mantra is always to be fair, impartial and decisive.

The Los Alamos League of Women Voters is a non-partisan organization. Its forums are directed at contested races.

All nine of Tuesday’s candidates are Democrats running in the June 1 primary for the First Judicial District Court, which includes Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties.

The League’s next forum is 7 p.m. Thursday at the UNM-LA Lecture Hall (Building 2). The forum includes Congressional District 3 Republican candidates, New Mexico House 43 Democratic candidates and Republican candidates running for Los Alamos County Council.