Race for Magistrate bench turns sour

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By Carol A. Clark

Likening Magistrate Judge Pat Casados’s performance to the under-sized, doughnut-like spare tire found inside the trunk of many cars and himself as a “brand new tire” is how challenger Gary Ahlers characterized the race in his opening remarks at Tuesday’s forum.
“My opponent is doing an OK job…but we need to take the doughnut off and put a brand new tire on…,” Ahlers said.
The Republican lost a 2006 run against two-time Democratic incumbent Casados.
The elephant in the room at Tuesday’s forum, cosponsored by the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos and the American Association of University Women, was Ahlers’ 1995 indictment. An audience member attempted to bring it up but exhausted her time limit. Then another audience member followed up asking if either candidate had ever been arrested. Casados said that she had not been arrested.
Ahlers joked that he’d been arrested “at least 30 different times for police brutality,” during his 20 years on the New Jersey police force, adding that lawyers always claim police rough up their clients.
In contrast to New Jersey, Los Alamos Police Capt. Randy Foster said that the LAPD has no recorded police brutality cases.
The case for which Ahlers was convicted surfaced during his campaign four years ago. He was indicted in New Jersey in 1995 on charges of tampering with evidence, theft and misconduct in the line of duty after a gun in his police department turned up missing. It was later located at his father-in-law’s Santa Fe home.
New Jersey court officials verified in 2006 that Ahlers’ records were expunged, adding that it doesn’t indicate innocence or guilt but that records for first time offenses are typically expunged after a year in that state, barring further incident.
“All my records were expunged with regard to that
incident,” Ahlers said earlier this year. “This is my ninth year in Los Alamos and people know what kind of a man and person I am. The most important things to me are my family and community and by community I mean my friends, neighborhood, church and sports — that’s what’s important to me — if people want to bring up something that happened 15 years ago — that’s ridiculous — let it go.”
The Magistrate Court judge position pays $72,000 per year.
Casados, 58, said it’s, “a 40-hour a week, 24/7 job,” because she can be called upon to issue search warrants any time of the day or night. “My judicial style is to assure justice is rendered fairly.”
Ahlers, 55, is currently a general contractor. He said each case must be adjudicated on its own merits.
“You have to balance the law with mercy,” Casados added.
Ahlers said domestic violence is a very important type of case that comes before Magistrate Court. He also said he would like to see more community involvement in the court.
“I would like to add night court one evening a week,” Ahlers said.
Casados said she also would like to see a night court but that there is currently a state rule against it.
The court also has not escaped the economic downturn.
“Our budget is the most serious issue facing the judiciary,” Casados said. “If it hadn’t been for some stimulus money our clerks would be on furlough right now. They may be on furlough in March, but many judges put some of their salaries in a fund to reduce furloughs.”
The Magistrate Court is located on the second floor of The Justice Center at 2500 Central Ave. In a typical year, the court hears up to 20 domestic violence cases, 50 civil cases, 25 DWIs and 300 traffic cases. The Magistrate judge also performs marriage ceremonies in the community.