New Mexico Chief Justice Judith Nakamura on Monday pushed lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee for more funding for new judge positions and beefed-up security in courts across the state. The committee is not directly involved in crafting the state budget, but Nakamura and Arthur Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, discussed what they argued is a need for $1.53 million to hire more judges, including one in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, and more than $2.7 million to bolster court security in a state where only two of 47 Magistrate Courts have armed security guards. “Courts tend sometimes to be fairly volatile places, so ensuring that those who work in the courts as well as those who use the courts remains one of our highest priorities,” Nakamura said after the hearing. “Police departments, sheriff’s departments, are themselves strapped for resources, or districts are so large they’re off patrolling other areas,” she continued. “And we do have some courthouses where there isn’t security neatly available for a variety of reasons, [or] their call button doesn’t go to the closest sheriff’s department but one that could be a hundred miles away.
The New Mexico Supreme Court vacated the death sentences of the final two inmates on death row Friday, ruling the sentences were not in line with sentences for similarly “horrendous” crimes. The court sent the cases of Timothy Allen and Robert Fry back to district court in San Juan County to instead impose sentences of life in prison. New Mexico last executed an inmate in 2001 when convicted murderer and rapist Terry Clark died by lethal injection; before Clark, New Mexico had not executed an inmate since 1960. In 2009, Gov. Bill Richardson signed a bill repealing the death penalty in New Mexico. Both Allen and Fry were sentenced under the 1979 law which allowed for prosecutors to seek the death penalty in certain cases.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura told a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature on Thursday the state’s justice system, which her predecessor described in 2017 as a patient on life support, is beginning to breathe on its own. Nakamura said funding appropriated over the past two years means the judicial branch can now pay Magistrate Court rents without worry and no longer loses employees to better paying jobs to discount retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Target. And, she said, a new jury management system has resulted in savings that mean jurors are paid in a timely fashion for the first time in eight years. “Are our courts thriving?” Nakamura said.
The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously struck down a controversial proposal to add a straight-party option to November’s ballot. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced last month that she would reinstate an option on November’s ballot to allow people to vote for all candidates of a given party with one mark on the ballot. That decision was challenged by the Libertarian and Republican parties of New Mexico, along with a Utah-based political action committee, a non-profit advocate group for independent candidates and one Democratic write-in candidate. On Wednesday, Chief Justice Judith Nakamura called it a tough decision, but said only state lawmakers can add add straight-party voting to the ballot. “Until the legislature makes a decision one way or the other, the Secretary of State cannot,” Nakamura said.
Hillary Clinton officially won New Mexico and its five electoral votes, after certification of results by the State Canvassing Board Tuesday. The board also certified the need for three recounts in legislative races, one of which heads into the recount with just a nine vote advantage. In the official results, 804,043 voters cast ballots, or 62.4 percent of the 1,289,414 voters who were registered in time to vote in the general election. Hillary Clinton received 48.26 percent of the votes cast in the presidential race, while Republican Donald Trump received 40.04 percent. Trump, however, received the most votes in enough states to win the presidency.
A night that ended with one of the most stunning upsets in modern presidential history began, in Albuquerque and likely in many other cities throughout the country, with Democrats feeling optimistic about the country on the cusp of electing its first female president. At the Hotel Andaluz in downtown Albuquerque, an enthusiastic crowd of state Democrats gathered to watch the election results and, they thought, to welcome Hillary Clinton to the White House. Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who easily won reelection to represent the Albuquerque area, showed up wearing a white pantsuit. She also wore a button bearing Clinton’s face on her chest. She called her outfit “my white suffrage Hillary Clinton pantsuit.”
In a disastrous night for Democrats nationwide that saw Republican Donald Trump win the presidency, the state party actually did well, retaking the House of Representatives and expanding the party’s majority in the state Senate. The scope of the advantage in both chambers isn’t yet known, as there could be up to four automatic recounts, two in each chamber. Democrats also won back the Secretary of State seat when Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver easily defeated Republican Nora Espinoza. “What a difference two years makes,” Toulouse Oliver told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, referring to her 2014 loss to Republican Dianna Duran. Duran resigned last year hours before pleading guilty to counts of misusing campaign funds, for which she spent 30 days in jail.
A poll by Research and Polling, Inc. for the Albuquerque Journal released Sunday shows Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton leads Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by 5 percent in New Mexico, days before Election Day. Research and Polling, which conducts polls for the Journal, is the only pollster that uses live interviews to poll in New Mexico this year. The poll, conducted from Nov. 1 to 3, shows 45 percent of likely voters say they will vote for Clinton, while 40 percent say they will vote for Trump. Former Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, saw his support fall to 11 percent.
In an opinion that left no room for doubt, the New Mexico Supreme Court said Thursday that farm and ranch laborers in the state are entitled to Workers’ Compensation insurance protection and that farm and ranch owners have to cover them. And those workers are entitled to that protection even though the state Legislature has excluded them from the Workers’ Compensation law as a way to protect the agricultural industry, the court said. This piece originally appeared on the ABQ Free Press website and is reprinted with permission. “We conclude that there is nothing to distinguish farm and ranch laborers from other agricultural employees and that purported government interests such as cost savings, administrative convenience, and other justifications related to unique features of agribusiness bear no rational relationship to the Act’s distinction between these groups,” said the opinion written by Justice Edward Chavez. “This is nothing more than arbitrary discrimination and, as such, it is forbidden by our Constitution.
—All of New Mexico’s congressional Democrats are on Team Hillary. Ben Ray Luján, the last holdout, announced his support for Hillary Clinton. Luján said in a statement that the former Secretary of State “embodies New Mexico values.”
“She puts people first and will roll up her sleeves to change their lives for the better,” he added. “Her record of advocating on behalf of women, children and families, investing in science and supporting our national labs, and fighting to protect our land, water and air will make a real difference in New Mexico and across the country.”
Luján is also the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, giving him an increased national profile among Democrats. —Speaking of endorsements, you may have heard that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump (yes, each word is a link to a different news story on the event).