Jessica A. Perez, president of the State Bar of New Mexico, David A. Jaramillo, president New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, and Nancy Franchini, president New Mexico Defense Lawyers Association, defend the way judges are selected in New Mexico.
The third branch of our government is under attack.
In the landmark decision, of Buckley v. Valeo, the United States Supreme Court ruled that “money = speech” in partially striking down campaign finance laws that it deemed an unconstitutional violation of individual liberty. Judicial candidates, therefore, cannot and should not be denied their right to free speech with the threat of indictment. Nor should any current member of our judiciary be faced with indictment based on the fact that he or she participated in our democratic process by donating money to a political candidate of their choosing.
First, no credible argument can be made that an unqualified lawyer has purchased a judicial seat, much less the entire judicial system. The attempted connection between contributions and an appointment ignores the actual facts regarding how judges are vetted, recommended, appointed, elected and retained in New Mexico. Judges in our system are appointed after they are recommended by a bi-partisan Judicial Selection Commission.
The commission interviews each applicant and makes a determination as to which of the applicants are qualified for the job. Each applicant appears before the commission to answer questions in a forum that is open to the public. Then, the commission forwards the names of only those candidates it feels are qualified to the governor, who then selects her appointed judge from that “short list.” After a judge has been appointed, he/she is required to stand for election in a contested, partisan race. They then stand for scrutiny by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. There are, therefore, multiple levels of scrutiny, and checks and balances.