From police officer to district judge

By Melissa Kennelly
Posted 2/6/20

Last April, I was appointed Division 2 District judge by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham after being recommended by a bipartisan judicial nominating commission. I am running in the 2020 election to keep my seat. For those who do not know me, I would like to introduce myself.

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From police officer to district judge

Posted

Last April, I was appointed Division 2 District judge by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham after being recommended by a bipartisan judicial nominating commission. I am running in the 2020 election to keep my seat. For those who do not know me, I would like to introduce myself.

Twenty-two years ago I became the first and only female police officer on a 30-officer department near Cleveland, Ohio. I grew up in a family of police officers and factory workers, and although I was the first in my family to earn a college degree, I chose the same career path as my father, uncle and grandfather. I worked hard to prove myself--not just as a woman, but as an out gay woman--and I'm proud to have served my community.

In 2004 I packed up my Jeep and my dog, and moved to Taos to live a life surrounded by mountains, art and a culture very different from that of conservative Ohio. I sought employment in the restaurant industry and worked at the Trading Post Café for nearly four years. And like many of us in Taos, I held supplemental jobs - as an adobe plasterer, handywoman, laborer, writer for the Taos News and researcher for the Taos "Horse Fly."

I enrolled in University of New Mexico Law School in 2007, graduated in the top 15 percent of my class, was editor-in-chief of the school's "Natural Resources Journal" and a Seth D. Montgomery Fellow at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, earned a certificate in natural resources law, won the Albert E. Utton Award and a scholarship from the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, helped edit a textbook on environmental justice, advocated for a drinking water system for disadvantaged residents of Pajarito Mesa near Albuquerque and wrote my final paper on the legal history of Northern New Mexico's acequias.

In my years as a lawyer in private practice, I've worked on numerous and diverse real estate issues; wills and trusts; business, nonprofit, bankruptcy and foreclosure law; assisted as local counsel for Holy Cross Hospital; and worked on water matters involving well shares, acequias and water rights determinations. During this time I served on the State Bar Ethics Advisory Committee and on the boards of the Taos County Bar Association and PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)-Taos.

As a lawyer working for the district and appellate courts, I've helped judges resolve criminal cases involving violent felonies, DWI, search and seizure and other constitutional issues, and civil cases involving personal injury, property tax and insurance law. I helped our state's appellate court streamline its case resolution process by initiating ideas to restructure it.

For the 8th Judicial District Court I mediated civil cases and provided legal counsel and support to the court and judges. And during the time between working for the appellate courts and the district court, I supported my wife in her 14-month battle with ovarian cancer and lost her to that disease in 2017.

As your Division 2 District judge for the last nine months, I've been handling a docket of more than 800 cases, including felony criminal, civil, probate, and abuse and neglect. I regularly conduct jury trials and nonjury trials in criminal and civil matters. As the court's water judge, I handle all cases in the district that involve water rights, informed by my experience as a parciante and commissioner on my local acequia.

I've attended the National Judicial College and numerous other judge-specific trainings. I preside over the Ratón Adult Drug Court and am developing a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for Colfax and Union counties. And I'm committed to working with partners in the criminal justice and behavioral health systems to improving our response to addiction and mental health issues.

In addition to these duties, I am running a political campaign to keep my seat. This campaign gives me the opportunity to do something that judges rarely get to do: meet with the people to discuss ways that I and the court can help make our communities safer and increase access to resources. I look forward to these conversations and to returning the people's investment in me by working hard as your Division 2 District judge.

Melissa Kennelly is the Division 2 District judge in the 8th Judicial District Court that covers Taos, Colfax and Union counties.

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