Commission to tackle district vacancy

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With Edmund Kase III retiring Friday, the appointment of the the Seventh Judicial District court judge is now in the the hands of some of New Mexico’s highest legal powers.

A special appointment commission of 11 members is being comprised equally of judicial democrat and republican legal officials and includes a chairman. The candidate selection commission of attorneys, state judicial representatives, New Mexico Supreme Court justices and others will select an interim judge until the term ends this year.

Raylene Weis, administrative assistant to the dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law and coordinator for judicial nominating commissions, said the appointment commission will select certain candidates for Gov. Susana Martinez’ consideration to sit on the bench for the remainder of Kase’s term.

“The way the judicial nominating judicial commission works is it doesn’t matter, if there’s a vacancy, when someone is appointed in order to retain that seat,” Weis said. “Whoever gets the appointment, (this judge) is looking at about three months on the bench.”

The appointment commission for the Seventh Judicial District will meet Aug. 8 in Socorro County to discuss candidates for possible recommendation to the governor.

As of Tuesday, there were four members on the commission, according to the UNM School of Law website: Chairman David David Herring, dean of UNM School of Law; Justice Petra Jimenez Maes of the New Mexico Supreme Court; Michael Bustamante of the New Mexico Court of Appeals; and Kevin Sweazea of the New Mexico Seventh Judicial District.

Seven more people will be appointed to the commission by the time they meet. People can monitor the commission selections at www.lawschool.unm.edu/judsel/commissions/seventh.php.

After the term is fulfilled, State Central Committees will elect candidates to run for the district judge position.

Weis said because the vacancy existed after the state primary elections, there was not an advertisement for an election for the absent district judge seat for the general election. Instead, Kase filed his retirement after that time, so the campaign season for these judges will end up being much shorter than a regular election year.

“Because of the timing of the vacancy and in connection to this being a general election year, it creates a unique situation,” Sweazea said. “The appointment doesn’t guarantee that they will be the candidate. Whoever is interested in being judge, in addition from going through the judicial selection process, that person has to go through the political process.”

Weis said candidates for judge can still file as a write-in. Additionally, she said because the governor has 30 days after Aug. 8 or when the selections are made, the interim district judge may not even take the bench until the first week of October, leaving a month at most of judgeship.

“Once the commission meets and sends the names of the candidates, the governor has one opportunity to send it back to the commission, and the commission will identify other applicants,” Sweazea said. “Occasionally when the governor sends it back, the commission will designate an additional name or names.”

If the governor doesn’t either appoint or sends it back, then the New Mexico Supreme Court appoints someone from the candidate list.

In the matters of transparency, everything up until deliberation is to be held in public.

“Typically, the entire process through the interviews will be public,” Sweazea said. “Then the commission will go into executive session to go discuss the candidates and then vote.”

More information on the judicial appointment process can be found at the UNM School of Law website.