My Turn

Opinion: Cast your vote for Judge Melissa Kennelly

By Peggy Nelson and Joseph Caldwell
Posted 4/30/20

Elections in the time of coronavirus pose a dilemma for us all. How can we safely participate? How can we get to know candidates at a time when social mixing is potentially dangerous? And, what has priority at this moment in time?

We will get through this period of chaos and uncertainty, but we don't know exactly what lies at the other side. What we do know is that we will need strong public officials and leaders who will have the best interest of the people in mind and act accordingly. Elections are important and have consequences.

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My Turn

Opinion: Cast your vote for Judge Melissa Kennelly

Posted

Elections in the time of coronavirus pose a dilemma for us all. How can we safely participate? How can we get to know candidates at a time when social mixing is potentially dangerous? And, what has priority at this moment in time?

We will get through this period of chaos and uncertainty, but we don't know exactly what lies at the other side. What we do know is that we will need strong public officials and leaders who will have the best interest of the people in mind and act accordingly. Elections are important and have consequences.

The 8th Judicial District, of which Taos County is a part, is facing a critical judge election. Judge Melissa Kennelly was appointed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and has been serving as your district judge since April of 2019. She deserves your vote to remain in office and continue the good work she has been doing.

Taos, Colfax and Union counties make up New Mexico's 8th Judicial District. Having had the privilege of serving as judges in this district for 18 years each, we can tell you that judges hear cases involving serious criminal matters, juvenile delinquency and civil matters of foreclosure, debt collection, personal injury, land and water, as well as neglect and abuse, divorce and custody. People appearing in court must rely on their judges to be fair and impartial and not subject to outside influence.

Sometimes, unpopular but legally based decisions are made. We must have trust that our judges are acting solely on the facts and the law, that they are respecting the rule of law and not deciding based on popular or political influence.

New Mexico's Constitution provides that when a district judge vacancy exists, the dean of the University of New Mexico Law School convenes a Judicial Selection Commission - with members named by the governor, legislators in the district, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, among others, ultimately comprised of lay citizens, community members, attorneys and judges, with a balance of members from the Democratic and Republican parties.

Interested applicants who, for district judge, meet the minimum qualifications of being an attorney, at least 35 years of age and who have practiced for six years are encouraged to apply. These applicants are interviewed by the commission, and the commission ultimately votes and makes a recommendation to the governor of those who are most qualified to hold the position.

We have both served on commissions in the past, and can attest to the fact that those recommended to the governor are truly the best and most qualified to become district judge. The governor is bound to appoint only a person whose name appears on the "short list" sent to her by the commission. This is an appointment based on merit, vetted by representative members of the community in which the judge will serve.

The judge appointed by this process must stand one time in a partisan election. Anyone with minimal qualifications can contest and run against the appointed judge. Whoever wins that election will then, in six years, face a retention election, with a yes or no vote.

For Judge Kennelly, this is the first, partisan election, beginning with the June 2 primary election. There are three other candidates in the race. Two of her opponents never made an application to the Judicial Selection Commission, were never screened on merit and were never on a merit-based short list that was sent to the governor.

The third opponent has applied three times in the 8th Judicial District, has been interviewed by a commission three times and has never been voted or recommended to the short list.

When Judge Kennelly interviewed before the commission convened for that vacancy, she impressed the commission with the more intangible qualifications that are considered. Among these are integrity, impartiality, professionalism, industry, physical and mental ability to perform the tasks required, writing ability, social awareness, collegiality, decisiveness and, perhaps most importantly, judicial temperament.

As one of the members of that commission stated, those qualities, many of which cannot be taught or learned, are written in the DNA of now Judge Kennelly.

Judge Kennelly is the candidate most qualified to get the job done. We need her on the bench.

Please vote. Apply for an absentee ballot when that application arrives in the mail. Cast your vote for Judge Melissa Kennelly.

Peggy Nelson and Joseph Caldwell are both retired district judges in Taos County.

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