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Judge candidates debate probate court

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Los Alamos County Magistrate Court Judge Pat Casados, a Democrat, and her Libertarian opponent James Rickman squared off at the second League of Women Voters of Los Alamos forum Oct. 3, answering questions from the audience on such subjects as the reorganization of the probate court, to how they would enter the “grey areas” of the criminal justice system.

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While it’s true that the state Legislature is looking at seriously reorganizing New Mexico’s probate court system into the other courts, Casados said even if the decision was made by the New Mexico Supreme Court tomorrow, an actual change wouldn’t be seen until the four-year terms of the current probate court judges expired.

Casados said she has discussed the matter with Chief New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Judith K. Nakamura. She said she wasn’t sure if “it would be a good fit, but, if it comes down, we’ll make it work, we’ll educate our judges,” Casados said. “That’s the biggest move we’ll have to make, is educating our magistrate court judges.”

Casados also reminded the audience that such a change will have to be proposed through a constitutional amendment.

“So, all of you will have to decide,” she said.

Rickman, who recently retired from the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a media specialist, said he had personal familiarity with the probate process, and knows it could be complicated, but would also welcome the change if it came.

Another audience member asked the two candidates what programs would they foster and recommend for adult defendants who committed minor crimes, and how they would deal with troubled teens.

“Putting someone in jail for a long time is kind of a waste of a person’s life, especially if they can still be productive person,” Rickman said. “I believe, when the law allows for it, credible options for rehabilitation outside of incarceration.”

Rickman said those options included military service, job and trade apprenticeships as some of the options.

Casados, who’s been a magistrate court judge in Los Alamos County for 16 years, said she’d like to see more programs implemented that would target drug abuse and mental health.

“We are working on a pre trial services program to make sure we can get these people in some programs,” Casados said. “As far as juveniles are concerned, the only juveniles I can see are ones in traffic court. Juvenile court is at the district court level.”

Casados also mentioned the Juvenile Justice Advisory Board’s Teen Court program, which helps teens who commit minor offenses avoid jail time and harsh penalties through rehabilitation programs and community service.

“We need to have people help them find another path,” Casados said, adding that sometimes all that’s needed is someone to steer them toward the right rehabilitation program or medical program.

“Whatever they need, we need to find those kinds of paths,” Casados said.