By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer
Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher believes he is ready for another phase of his law-enforcement career. He wants to be a judge.
Hatcher, whose eight-year sheriff’s career will end in December because of term limits, has announced he is running for the magistrate judge position held by Richard Hollis.
The primary is June 6. The general election is Nov. 7.
Candidates cannot sign up until March 21, but both Hatcher and Hollis have already started their campaigns with newspaper ads. Both are Republicans.
The race promises to be competitive as both men are well known in the community.
Hatcher believes he’s qualified for the job, having worked in law enforcement for 15 years. He said he deals with laws before and after judges become involved.
“We (sheriff’s office) deal with civil and criminal law,” he said.
Hollis said his court is forward thinking and respected statewide.
“I think we are ahead of the curve,” said Hollis, who said he’s helped pilot court programs that include video arraignment and a DWI probation office.
Magistrate court handles torts, contracts, property rights, felony preliminary hearings, misdemeanors, impaired-driving cases, and traffic violations, according to the New Mexico Criminal Justice Resource Directory.
If elected, Hatcher said he would like to institute night court.
“It would help people. If you don’t get off work until 5 or 6 (p.m.) and you’ve got a traffic citation and you want to see a judge after work, it won’t cost you time off from work,” Hatcher said.
The idea of night court could hit funding and administrative snags, Hatcher said, but it could also save money.
Police who work nights but must appear in court during the day are costing taxpayers money in overtime hours, he said.
Hollis said night court is not feasible, nor is it a new idea.
Clerks will not be provided by administrative offices of the courts, Hollis said. And judges can’t wear the hat of judge, clerk and probation officer.
Hatcher said bond issues and jail over-crowding may be alleviated by adjusting sentencing and bond setting.
“Over the last four years jail costs have doubled from what they were prior to that. Some say that’s good, but who’s being put into jail and why? There’s a whole lot of things that have to be considered,” Hatcher said.
Hollis said the county is expanding and with that comes crime; he thinks a new jail facility may be needed if the community keeps growing.
“I don’t see a problem with the bond system. The bond system is not responsible for jail overcrowding. Overcrowding is a reflection of a growing community,” Hollis said.
Hollis said most of the people he puts in jail are there because they violated their probation.