New Mexico Courts

Supreme Court (from left to right) Justice Charles W. Daniels, Justice Petra Jimenez Maes, Chief Justice Judith K. Nakamura, Justice Edward L. Chavez, Justice Barbara J. Vigil

The Supreme Court was created in 1912 when New Mexico became a state.

The Supreme Court consists of five Justices who serve eight-year terms.  The Court is located in Santa Fe. This is the court of last resort and oversees the entire New Mexico Judiciary.

The Court is responsible for the statewide administrative oversight of the entire Judiciary, which includes the promulgation of rules of practice and procedure and the appointment and oversight of over 40 committees, boards, and commissions who assist the Court with its supervision of the bench and bar., i.e. all inferior courts and attorneys licensed in the state.

The Court also is responsible for the admission and regulation of attorneys and judges, which includes setting and enforcing the requirements for the continuing legal education of attorneys and judges and imposing discipline against attorneys and judges for professional misconduct.

This court has mandatory appellate jurisdiction over: criminal matters in which the sentence imposed is life in prison or the death penalty, appeals from the Public Regulation Commission, appeals from the granting of writs of habeas corpus, appeals in actions challenging nominations, and removal of public officials.

Discretionary jurisdiction: denials of petitions for writ of habeas corpus, sole discretionary, appellate jurisdiction to review decisions of New Mexico Court of Appeals through the issuance of writs of certiorari, other extraordinary writ matters, and certified questions either from the Court of Appeals or federal courts.

Court of Appeals

Top row: Judge Stephen G. French, Judge J. Miles Hanisee, Judge M. Monica Zamora, Judge Julie J. Vargas, Judge Henry M. Bohnhoff Bottom row: Judge Michael E. Vigil, Judge James J. Wechsler, Chief Judge Linda M. Vanzi, Judge Jonathan B. Sutin, Judge Timothy L. Garcia

 

Ten judges preside, sitting in panels of three. The court has offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

This court has mandatory jurisdiction in: civil, non-capital criminal, juvenile cases; Discretionary jurisdiction in interlocutory decision cases and administrative agency appeals.

District Court

Ninety-four judges preside. There are thirteen different districts. These are courts of general jurisdiction which hold jury trials.

Ward 27 residents and voters are in State Second (#2) Judicial District Court.

The Second Judicial District Court is composed of four divisions – criminal, civil, family, and children.

Civil Division

It has ten (10) judges who handle a broad array of cases from debtor/creditor matters to complex commercial, products liability and professional malpractice claims. 

Civil Division addresses:  Contract claims, employment disputes, personal injury claims, disputes over money and property, and appeals from decisions by state, county or local government boards and agencies make up just a part of civil decision caseload.  If a case does not involve a jail sentence or the dissolution of a marriage, there’s a good chance it will be litigated in the court’s civil division.

Criminal Court Division:  The criminal division has ten (10) judges who hear all felony cases, appeals of Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court criminal cases, extraditions of felons in other jurisdictions and requests for search warrants.

Family Court Division

This division has four judges.  These judges handle divorces, legal separations, custody and time-sharing matters, division of property and debts in divorce cases, spousal support, child support, Uniform Parentage Act cases for unmarried parents, domestic violence cases, kinship-guardianship of children cases and adult adoptions.

Children’s Court Division:

The children’s court division has three (3) judges who handle juvenile cases including abuse and neglect of children, adoptions, and juvenile delinquency.

They preside at the Juvenile Justice Center, which is located at 5100 2nd Street NW.

Magistrate Court

Sixty-seven judges preside. There are 54 magistrate courts. These are courts of limited jurisdiction. Jury trials.

This court will hear these types of cases: Tort, contract, landlord/tenant rights ($0-10,000); Felony preliminary hearings; Misdemeanor, DWI/DUI and other traffic violations.

There are no magistrate courts in Bernalillo County.

Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court

Nineteen judges preside. Sixteen judges are assigned to criminal cases and three judges to civil cases.  This is a court of limited jurisdiction and jury trials which means that (1) it cannot sentence a person to more than 364 days in jail; (2) it cannot order a fine over $1,000 on a single charge, or (3) it cannot hear a case on a civil matter  where the dispute exceeds $10,000.

Metropolitan Court has seven (7) specialty and problem-solving courts: (1)  The DWI recovery court started in 1997; (2) Urban Native American wellness court begun in 2015; (3) Domestic violence and domestic violence repeat defender court;  (4) Veterans track effort under domestic violence begun in 2014; (5) Homeless court held at St. Martin’s Hospitality Center; (6) Mental-health and competency court; and (7) traveling court to high schools for educational purposes (real defendants sentenced for DWI for example).  Metropolitan Court has the only in-house probation center in the state judiciary.

Case load per judge averages 4,000 to 5,000 per year.  In addition to their normal caseload, judges volunteer in the specialty courts during lunch hours and after work.

This court will hear these types of cases: Tort, contract, landlord/tenant rights ($0-10,000); Felony first appearances; Misdemeanor, DWI/DUI, Domestic Violence and other traffic violations.

The court also provides a “mediation division” which assists parties in resolving cases so they don’t have to go to court.  This program started in 1986 and over 100 trained professional mediators volunteer their services each year.

Metropolitan court judges also perform weddings and participate in the high school mock trial programs with students using their courtrooms.

To see a video overview of this information, go to:  https://youtu.be/_pIpHph9SPQ

Municipal Court

Eighty-three judges preside. There are eighty-one municipal courts. These are courts of limited jurisdiction. No jury trials.

This court will hear these types of cases: Petty misdemeanors, DWI/DUI, traffic violations and other municipal ordinance violations.

Probate Court

Thirty-three judges. There are thirty-three counties. These are courts of limited jurisdiction. No jury trials.

This court will hear these types of cases: Informal probate; Estate (Hears uncontested cases. Contested cases go to district court).

Bernalillo County Probate Court: 

Probate is the court process to obtain the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate of a person who has died (decedent).

The estate is distributed according to: the decendent’s will or if the decendent did not have a will, according to New Mexico’s laws of intestate succession. The probate court appoints legally qualified persons, called personal representatives, to manage and settle the decedent’s affairs. personal representatives distribute the assets decedent’s estate to the rightful recipients. These might include heirs, devisees named in a valid and current will, or creditors.

A separate brochure, “Who are the Heirs,” (https://www.bernco.gov/probate-court/who-are-the-heirs-.aspx ) is available from the court.

Jurisdiction of Probate Court

State law limits the jurisdiction of the Probate Courts to uncontested informal (with no hearings) proceedings to:

  • Admitting wills to probate
  • Appointing personal representatives
  • Appointing special administrators

State law also allows probate judges to perform marriages within their county only.

A probate proceeding can be filed in the Bernalillo County Probate Court if:

  • The decedent was domiciled in Bernalillo County at the time of death (i.e., Bernalillo County was the permanent place of the decedent’s abode), or
  • The decedent lived outside of New Mexico but owned property in Bernalillo County.

 

New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission

The New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission is an independent state agency charged with investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and disability against New Mexico state and municipal judges.

The Judicial Standards Commission is composed of thirteen members. Seven members are public members appointed by the Governor; two members are attorneys appointed by the Board of Bar Commissioners; two members are justices or judges of the New Mexico Supreme Court, Court of Appeals or District Courts appointed by the Supreme Court; one member is a magistrate judge appointed by the Supreme Court; and one member is a municipal judge appointed by the Supreme Court.

Public members are appointed to staggered five-year terms, while attorney and judicial members are appointed to staggered four-year terms.

Commissioners are not paid a salary, but receive per diem and reimbursement for expenses as provided by law. Each year the Commissioners elect a Chair and Vice-Chair from the lay membership. Pursuant to NMSA §34-10-1(A), no more than three of the seven positions appointed by the Governor may be occupied by persons from the same political party. Party affiliations are noted below in parentheses for the gubernatorial appointees.

 

The Commission does not have jurisdiction over attorneys, state court hearing officers, state or federal administrative law judges, federal judges or magistrates, or non-incumbent judicial candidates.

Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC)

https://www.nmjpec.org/en/

NMJPEC was established by the Supreme Court of New Mexico to improve the performance of New Mexico’s judges and provide useful, credible information to New Mexico voters on all judges standing for retention during elections. The nonpartisan volunteer Commission has 15 members, including seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers, who are appointed to staggered terms. Members are appointed to represent divergent professions, backgrounds and geographical areas of the state.

There is a place you can go for information — the New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (NMJPEC). NMJPEC was established by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 1997 as a nonpartisan volunteer commission to make recommendations to voters on judges standing for retention. Under our state’s constitution, judges who win a partisan election then go on to stand for retention. To stay on the bench, they must receive 57 percent voter approval.

NMJPEC is made up of 15 volunteer members from throughout New Mexico, including seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers, who spend hundreds of hours conducting evaluations. We use an objective, carefully-monitored process to evaluate the overall performance of judges standing for retention in four main areas:

  1. legal ability
  2. fairness
  3. communication skills
  4. preparation, attentiveness, temperament and control over proceedings

Confidential surveys are distributed by an independent research firm to people who have regular contact with the judges, such as lawyers, court staff, and other judges. We also meet with each judge to review the results of the independent surveys and his or her self-assessment of performance.

In addition to the evaluations we make public to voters during general elections, JPEC has another important goal: improving the performance of our state’s Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, District Court judges and Metropolitan Court judges.

To accomplish this, we also evaluate each justice or judge mid-way through his or her term. The purpose of those evaluations, which are not made public, is to help our state’s judges improve their performance by providing an objective assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. As needed, we also help them develop a plan for improvement.

Confidential surveys are distributed by an independent research firm to people who have regular contact with the judges, such as lawyers, court staff, and other judges. We also meet with each judge to review the results of the independent surveys and his or her self-assessment of performance.

In addition to the evaluations we make public to voters during general elections, JPEC has another important goal: improving the performance of our state’s Supreme Court justices, Court of Appeals judges, District Court judges and Metropolitan Court judges.

To accomplish this, we also evaluate each justice or judge mid-way through his or her term. The purpose of those evaluations, which are not made public, is to help our state’s judges improve their performance by providing an objective assessment of their strengths and weaknesses. As needed, we also help them develop a plan for improvement.