District judge to hear cases locally

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Courts: Residents will now have shorter commute to seek justice

By Carol A. Clark

Every Wednesday morning beginning in January, local residents will conduct their District Court obligations at the Justice Center in downtown Los Alamos – saving litigants, jurors, police, attorneys, witnesses, family members and friends alike the commute to Santa Fe.   

“It’s about time,” said District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson as Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados gave her and her staff a tour of the Justice Center Wednesday.

Casados explained that many years ago a District Court judge did travel to hear cases occasionally in Los Alamos, adding that she’s not sure why that practice ended.

“I’ve been working on getting a District Court judge to come here since way before we got the Justice Center built,”

Casados said. “I knew I had the backing of the police chief and the district attorney.”

Casados had a long conversation with District Court Judge Barbara Vigil who asked Casados to write several letters and she also promised Casados that she would discuss the possibility with her colleagues at the annual Judicial Retreat in September.   

“I spoke with Judge Vigil a couple of days after her retreat and she told me they had talked long and hard about it and that Judge Raphaelson would begin hearing cases at our Justice Center in January,” Casados said. “She already has cases on her docket beginning Jan. 11.”

Raphaelson will share Casados’ upstairs court room and is initially scheduled to hear cases every Wednesday morning, which may expand should the need arise, she said. With the Magistrate and Municipal court rooms and a hearing room at the Justice Center, all three courts can hear cases at the same time, Casados said.

“The Justice Center is being looked at by the state as a model for other communities and I’m just very proud that we were able to get the District Court to hear cases here with us,” she said. “Residents can come in and do their filing locally now and this is especially important for restraining orders because the judge can sign them that day – for domestic violence cases, this is huge.”

The Justice Center is becoming a full service judicial complex. Assistant District Attorney Genna Stewart now conducts her work at the Justice Center two or three days a week.

“The only component we’re missing now is a public defender intake person,” said Casados, who is working to make that happen as well.

“Los Alamos can be proud of the fact that they built a facility that is going to be used to its full potential on a continuous basis.”

County Councilor Geoff Rodgers agreed saying, “I am very pleased to hear that all three courts will now be hearing cases at the Justice Center.”  

Casados, 59, was first elected to the bench in 2002. In her court, Casados hears up to 20 domestic violence cases, 25 DWI, 50 civil and 300 traffic cases annually and officiates over marriages in Los Alamos County.

She is the secretary treasurer of the Board of Directors of the New Mexico Magistrate Judges Association and serves locally on the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board and the DWI Planning Council.

Raphaelson, 46, practiced civil and criminal law in Española since 1996. In 2004, state District Judge Barbara Vigil appointed her special master of the Rio Arriba Drug Court, where she supervised participants to ensure that they complied with program guidelines and made progress. Raphaelson previously worked as a public defender in Roswell and Santa Fe.

In 2009, Gov. Bill Richardson appointed Raphaelson to the First District judgeship to replace Judge Tim Garcia who was appointed to the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Richardson cited Raphaelson’s civil and criminal law experience among reasons for her appointment. She retained her bench in the 2010 election.

Raphaelson holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Colorado and a law degree from the New England School of Law in Boston. She grew up in Connecticut.

Raphaelson is married to Will O’Connell, an attorney in the state Public Defender’s appeals division. The couple lives in Rio Arriba County with their 11-year-old son, Leo O’Connell.

District Court:
The State of New Mexico First Judicial District Court includes Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties. It is a court of general jurisdiction that holds jury trials and hears cases involving tort contracts, real property rights, estates, exclusive domestic relations, mental health, appeals for administrative agencies and lower courts, miscellaneous civil jurisdiction, misdemeanors, criminal appeals and has juvenile jurisdiction.

Magistrate Court:
The Magistrate Court is a court of limited jurisdiction that holds jury trials and hears cases involving tort, contract, landlord/tenant rights up to $10,000, felony preliminary hearings, misdemeanors, DWI/DUI and other traffic violations.

Municipal Court:
The Municipal Court is a court of limited jurisdiction that does not hold jury trials but hears cases involving petty misdemeanors, DWI/DUI, traffic violations and other municipal ordinance violations.