Six apply for Taos magistrate judge seat

Appointee to run in 2020 election

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 1/16/20

Following Jeff Shannon's appointment in December to the bench in the 8th Judicial District Court, six people have since applied to fill his vacant seat in Taos Magistrate Court.

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Six apply for Taos magistrate judge seat

Appointee to run in 2020 election

Posted

Updated Jan. 16 at 8 p.m.

Clarification appended.

Following Jeff Shannon's appointment in December to the bench in the 8th Judicial District Court, six people have since applied to fill his vacant seat in Taos Magistrate Court.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is now in the process of reviewing applications and interviewing candidates to choose Shannon's successor.

Like Shannon, who served in the magistrate court for seven and a half years before his appointment, the governor's appointee will take on a role that requires hearing felony cases before they are transferred to district court, as well as presiding over misdemeanor and petty offense cases.

The appointee will join Judge Ernest Ortega, who has served as judge in Taos Magistrate Court since 2006. In the short time that Shannon's seat has been vacant, Ortega's docket has swelled in order to compensate for the steady stream of cases filed in Taos County each month.

With the June 2020 primary election less than six months away, whoever among the six candidates is chosen to fill the seat will soon find themselves running to retain it for a full four-year term.

The following are short bios on the candidates.

Sara Blankenhorn

A contract attorney for Community Against Violence and a research and writing associate for Natelson Law Firm in Taos, Sara Blankenhorn wrote in her application last month that she applied for the judge position out of a desire "to do more" to serve her community.

Blankenhorn was born and raised in Taos and is a graduate of Taos High School. She received her undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Washington and a master's in philosophy and Western literature from St. John's College in 2008. She graduated from University of New Mexico Law School in 2011.

While earning her law degree, Blankenhorn interned with the New Mexico Office of the Public Defender and worked as a teaching assistant in criminal law classes.

Professionally, Blankenhorn worked for one year as an assistant district attorney prosecuting criminal cases with the 1st Judicial District Attorney's Office in Santa Fe, where she handled domestic violence and DWI cases.

For the past six years, she has shifted her focus to general civil litigation. She has also represented clients in the family law court in Taos and in domestic violence court for three years. On the side, she runs a short-term rental business in Taos and has a small interest in Blankenhorn Investments.

She is the daughter of District IV Taos County Commissioner Tom Blankenhorn, a family connection she chose to omit from her application when asked about potential conflicts of interest she might encounter because she felt it wouldn't present one.

"Also ... I did not want to appear to be seeking any sort of nepotistic advantage by name-dropping my father," she said in a response to an email inquiry from the Taos News regarding the omission.

While county commissioners are commonly named in lawsuits filed against the county, such cases would most likely be filed in the district court and not in magistrate court, which only handles civil suits up to $10,000.

Jim Fambro

District I Taos County Commissioner Jim Fambro has served as an alternate Taos Municipal Court judge for the past nine years. He believes his history of service in Taos County in a variety of public positions makes him a strong candidate to serve as a judge in magistrate court.

Born in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, and raised in Taos, Fambro is a graduate of Taos High School and studied at the University of New Mexico.

Before he entered politics, Fambro worked for 24 years with Taos Fire Department. He also served as board president for the New Mexico Fire Chief's Association from 2007 to 2013.

He was first elected as District I commissioner in 2015 and last won reelection in 2018. He has served as a board member on the New Mexico Association of Counties since 2017.

Fambro's ties to the community include his wife, Marietta Fambro, who is the finance director for the town of Taos.

Since 2010, he has served as an alternate judge for municipal court, which handles cases pertaining to violations of town ordinances, minor criminal cases and civil cases. Asked in his application what experience he has in civil law, Fambro wrote "none." While magistrate judges in New Mexico are not required to have a formal education in law school, new judges receive legal training after they are appointed or elected to serve.

Asked why he is applying to be a magistrate judge, Fambro wrote that he is fair, has a reasonable demeanor and cares about his community.

Grace Philips, general counsel for the New Mexico Association of Counties, said she was unaware of any statute that would require Fambro to give up his position as commissioner if he were elected judge.

Tim Hasson

Tim Hasson has worked as an attorney for 30 years. After applying twice in the last year for open judge seats in Taos District Court, his application last month marks his third bid for an appointment to advance to the bench.

Since 2017, Hasson has served as deputy district attorney for the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Taos. He returned after working in the district for the first time from 2002 to 2006. Prior to his return in 2017, he worked as a staff and managing attorney for New Mexico Legal Aid, in Taos and Santa Fe. Hasson also worked for two years at the 1st Judicial District Attorney's Office in Santa Fe. He spent the years from 2007 to 2008 working civil cases for Maestas & Boothby law firm in Taos.

Earlier in his career, Hasson practiced with Community & Indian Legal Services, and as an attorney in various capacities in Talbot County, Maryland. Hasson is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1988 and moved west in the 1990s.

As a prosecutor, Hasson has handled numerous major felony cases and juvenile cases in New Mexico. In his application, he estimated that he has conducted more than 60 felony jury trials and numerous nonjury trials. In November 2018, he received the Prosecutor of the Year Award from the New Mexico State Bar.

"The magistrate judge performs a vital service to the community, and it behooves those of us who are sufficiently qualified to step forward and be willing to serve when the need arises," Hasson wrote in his application.

Angela Macdonald

Angela Macdonald worked as an assistant district attorney for a year and a half in San Juan and Taos counties, and currently serves as a staff attorney in Taos District Court, where she assists judges with legal research and writing.

Originally from Wheat Ridge, Colorado, Macdonald received her undergraduate degree in psychology and communication from the University of Denver in 2007. She also received her master's in alternative dispute resolution from DU. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts School of Law in 2016.

She began practicing law in 2017 at the 11th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Farmington, where she worked as an assistant DA for a year. In 2018, she transferred to the 8th Judicial District Attorney's Office. After just a few months in the 8th district, she took a job as assistant attorney general at the New Mexico Attorney General's Office in Santa Fe, a position she held through August 2019.

While practicing in New Mexico, Macdonald conducted both misdemeanor and felony trials on behalf of the state. She argued a number of no-bond motions in district court. For the AG's office, she exclusively practiced civil law through the open government division, focusing on administrative law and appellate work. She represented boards, agencies and commissions.

"I have wanted to be a judge since I was a child," she wrote in her application. "Becoming a judge is my ultimate goal as an attorney."

Edwardo Martinez

Since retiring from his position as the Taos New Mexico State Police commander at the end of 2019, Edwardo Martinez has set his sights on becoming a judge.

"I want to see the other side of it," Martinez said. "I know it already - I know the police side of it. The constitution is the constitution, and it protects people just as much as you use it to put people in jail."

Martinez and his team of officers were responsible for filing numerous criminal cases in the magistrate court in Taos, many of which were handled by Judge Shannon.

Born in Los Alamos but raised in Taos, Martinez graduated from Taos High School in 1994 and then received his associate degree in criminal justice and political science from Northern New Mexico College in Española.

Martinez began his career in law enforcement at Taos Pueblo, working as an officer with the tribal police department and then working with the town of Taos Police department.

He moved on to New Mexico State Police in 2002 in Española, where he worked as a patrolman for under two years, but earned a reputation for developing solid criminal cases in the area. The state's criminal investigations division took notice, and then recruited him to work as an investigator in Taos. Martinez also worked in the state narcotic's division.

He was promoted to the rank uniform sergeant and then to lieutenant in 2013. Martinez became commander of the Taos district, where he remained until he retired in December.

He attended the FBI Academy in Virginia in 2017, an experience that he said gave him a stronger grasp of how to work large narcotics cases and helped him learn how to better utilize federal resources to put away repeat offenders.

Charlene Tsoodle-Marcus

Charlene Tsoodle-Marcus has worked as the program director for Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council since 2013, ensuring that domestic violence services are provided to the eight northern pueblo reservations in New Mexico and supervising her staff.

Born in Lawton, Oklahoma, she was raised in Taos. She graduated from Taos High School and studied at New Mexico State University and Capella University.

Tsoodle-Marcus already has experience as a judge, having worked from the bench at the Taos Tribal Court from 2008 to 2013.

Prior to that, she worked as an administrator at the Taos County Adult Detention Center on Albright Street, from 2006-2007. She also worked as a part-time faculty member at the University of New Mexico in Taos and at Northern New Mexico College in Española, where she served as the Northern Pueblos Institute coordinator. For Taos County and Taos Pueblo, she worked as a planner and coordinator, respectively. She started her career with National Indian Justice Planning as a justice specialist and criminal justice planner. She next spent several years at the New Mexico Corrections Department as a manager, specialist, extradition officer and planner.

In her application, Tsoodle-Marcus noted her extensive knowledge of tribal law, and said she had assisted some tribes in writing legal code. For Taos County, she helped write policies and procedures for the county jail.

She gained political experience as a board member for the New Mexico Justice Planning Board from 1972 to 1980 and as chairwoman for the Northern Pueblos Housing Authority.

While county commissions are usually named in lawsuits filed against a county, they are most often filed in a district court and are unlikely to be filed in a magistrate court.

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