By Darrell Todd Maurina
When Judge Robert Brack leaves July 25 to assume his new federal judgeship duties in Las Cruces, the 9th Judicial District will lose one of its three judges. According to District Attorney Brett Carter, that vacancy is expected to continue for some time.
“By the time they advertise it and get applicants to submit their questionnaires it is probably going to be September before the (judicial nominating) commission meets,” Carter said.
When a judge resigns in the middle of a term, Carter said the New Mexico state constitution has a process in which a panel of state officials serve on a judicial nominating commission that proposes a pool of candidates from whom the governor selects a judge. Candidates have to be at least 35 years old and have practiced law at least five years.
The candidate selected by the governor serves as judge until the next general election — in this case, November 2004 — and then stands for re-election in a yes or no vote.
At this point in the process, the key players are Colin Alcott, president of the New Mexico State Bar Association, and Suellyn Scarnecchia, dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law.
“There will be an announcement that all people interested in applying need to submit their application to the dean of the law school,” Alcott said.
Scarnecchia will then preside at a meeting of a nine-member judicial nominating committee.
That’s not the end of the process. Alcott said once he gets that list, his work is just beginning.
“The president of the State Bar proposes names to balance party affiliation,” Alcott said. “The statute says it has to be evenly balanced between civil plaintiffs and defendants, criminal plaintiff attorneys, which means district attorneys, and defense attorneys.”
Getting the needed balance of Curry County and Roosevelt County citizens isn’t always easy. Alcott said.
“Generally I get a hold of the names of my district court judges who can give me some names,” Alcott said. “I generally go into these meetings with some sort of prepared list. We will discuss it and the group will either accept that name or not. We go down the list until we have matched up the Republicans and Democrats.”
The next stage is a series of public meetings in which the judicial nominating commission interviews the applicants. After a closed meeting, the commission forwards a list of all nominees to the governor who the commission considers to be qualified. The governor either appoints a person on the list or tells the commission to submit a new list. If the governor won’t accept any of the names on the second list, the State Supreme Court chooses the next judge.
Alcott said 2002 has been a record year for vacancies with more than a dozen so far.
While others are working hard to replace him, Brack is working hard to get his work done before leaving.
“I did some arraignments and pretrials that I won’t be there for the follow-up; it was then that it really hit me that I won’t be here much longer,” Brack said. “It’s going to be a hard thing to leave Clovis, but we are familiar with Las Cruces, we love the state of New Mexico, and are excited about the opportunity to live in and get to know another community in New Mexico.”