The clearest sign that Betty Martínez-Gonzales plans to do things differently than her opponent might be her insistence that his title is given incorrectly."It's presiding judge," she said, "not …
The clearest sign that Betty Martínez-Gonzales plans to do things differently than her opponent might be her insistence that his title is given incorrectly.
"It's presiding judge," she said, "not 'chief judge.' "
Martínez-Gonzales served in that capacity for 29 years in Taos County, a time when she said things were done differently in Taos County Magistrate Court.
Like her opponent, Martinez-Gonzales does not have a law degree, and presiding judge is one of the highest levels of the court system a person can reach without one.
She started her career as a court clerk after graduating from Taos High School in the 1970s. In 1982, she entered the running and won the election to become a part-time magistrate judge in Questa. She is still one of the youngest people in New Mexico to be elected to the office.
While in office, Martinez furthered her education to include her certificate of magistrate qualification from the New Mexico Supreme Court, as well as additional training at University of New Mexico Law School, the Judicial Center of New Mexico and the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada, some of which is required training for magistrate judges in the state.
"Back then, there were four judges in Taos. There was a judge that was here three quarters of the time, then a judge in TP (Tres Piedras) and Questa and Peñasco. Those judges were quarter-time judges."
During two years in Questa, her caseload grew, and the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts relocated her to Taos, where she spent nearly three decades working on civil cases, criminal cases and establishing what she sees as a bygone era she plans to bring back if elected this year.
"My court was a role model court," she said, adding that other judges were assigned to her for training, until she retired – without political defeat – in 2011.
She spent her final five years working down the hall from her current opponent, now Chief Magistrate Court Judge Ernest Ortega.
"I'm running now because a lot of people have requested me to come back," Martínez-Gonzales said. "Apparently the Taos court went under a turmoil under Judge Ortega's administration. I don't know exactly what transpired as to why the caseload was in turmoil. Apparently what happened is the court was depleted down to one clerk."
According to Martínez-Gonzales, and in spite of widely publicized budget cuts to the New Mexico court system last year, she blames short staffing, heavy caseloads and the closure of the circuit court in Questa on her opponent, saying he didn't manage available funds effectively.
"Funding's never an issue," she said. "The court definitely has funding. He had the staff. The staff just quit."
Under her leadership, Martínez-Gonzales said Taos County Magistrate Court would move through cases more efficiently and foster a better relationship with the AOC.
Despite her time away from the bench, Martínez-Gonzales said she is ready to handle a caseload that has increased and a court system that has changed since she retired eight years ago.
"I would like to see more facilities, more funding to address these issues," she said. "My priority is and was as a magistrate judge, to always protect and serve the community, and making sure that justice is served."
- John Miller
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