Judge candidates consider bringing more cases to LA

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By Tris DeRoma

At a candidate forum held May 9 sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos, Los Alamos Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados asked the four Democratic candidates running for First Judicial Court Judge, Division II, if they would be willing to hold court in Los Alamos County more often if elected to the office. Lately, most court cases involving Los Alamos residents have been held in Santa Fe. 

The first candidate to speak was Donna Bevacqua-Young, who has been serving as a Santa Fe Magistrate Court judge since 2013. She first spoke about her times filling in for Casados as a magistrate court judge whenever Casados had a scheduling conflict. 

“There is more than enough ample space, not only for magistrate court judges but for district court judges to cup up here. I would actually advocate for judges to actually come up to Los Alamos more,” Bevacqua-Young said. 

The current First Judicial District, Division II judge, Gregory Shaffer, said that though he agreed the courthouse at the Los Alamos Justice Center was a beautiful facility, the decision to hold court in Los Alamos is often a decision of convenience and common sense.

“Ultimately what goes into making a decision as to where to hold a hearing or having a trial… is the convenience of witness as well as the parties,” Shaffer said. “Oftentimes when you’re dealing with non-evidentiary hearings or non-jury trials it can be more convenient and less expensive for the parties if both matters are heard in Santa Fe.”

First Judicial District, Division II judge candidate Mary E. Sanchez-Gagne, who is currently serving as a hearing examiner, alternate dispute resolution officer with the state engineer’s office, said she would want to have more court dates in Los Alamos County. 

“I think it would be very beneficial to move those cases that may be particular to Los Alamos… I think it’s more about being inclusive of all of our partners in each of these communities that comprise the First Judicial District,” Sanchez-Gagne said.

Judge candidate Jerry Archuleta said it was very important they hold court in Los Alamos as much as possible. 

“I do believe that because it’s part of the culture and that it does affect the community, anytime it’s possible and feasible, hearing should be held here in Los Alamos, because it is part of the district we serve,” Archuleta said.  

The forum also featured two Democratic candidates for First Judicial District, Division V also answered questions from the audience. 

They were Deputy District Attorney Jason C. Lidyard and attorney Matthew E. Jackson. 

One question asked of both of them was whether they feel the judgeship has enough leeway to direct the convicted into mental health and drug treatment counseling if that’s what they feel is best for them. 

Lidyard responded that sentencing depends a lot on what type of resources a community has. 

“Incarceration doesn’t solve many problems. Incarceration is able to isolate the individual and that’s about it, and the only ones that will be isolated are the ones that will put us in danger, will be violent against us,” Lidyard said. “So we need more resources in our communities. We need more drug treatment, we need more mental health services we need more human resources to provide for people, so judges during sentencing can provide that option.

Jackson agreed. 

 “The courts are here much like the police are here, as a last bulwark, when everything else fails. It’s dealing with a situation that hasn’t been fixed before it got to that point,” Jackson said.

“But, that doesn’t mean that treatment should stop at the courts, it means that there should be additional resources devoted to indentifying and helping people before they get to the point where they’re appearing before a judge.” 

The primary election is June 5. 

Election polls at the Los Alamos County Golf Course, The Betty Ehart Senior Center, the County Municipal Building and the White Rock Town Hall will be open all day June 5 for voting.

For more information about voting, visit the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos at lwvlosalamos.org or the Los Alamos County Clerk’s Office at losalamosnm.us.