Judicial group says keep judges in November

Sep. 16—The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission is recommending keeping most of the judges running in state judicial retention elections in November.

The lone exception is Court of Appeals Judge Jane Yohalem, who commission officials said they are making no recommendation on because she hasn't been on the bench long enough for the commission to evaluate her performance. The Santa Fe lawyer was appointed to the court in mid-2020.

Commissioners are recommending voters return Supreme Court Justice Michael Vigil, as well as the seven judges running for retention to Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court spots.

"The last two years have been very challenging for these judges," commission Chairwoman Denise Torres said in a statement. "The commission did take factors such as COVID-19 and the need to conduct hearings and trials remotely into consideration, as well as their overall performance."

Although Yohalem and Vigil are both Democrats, retention races are nonpartisan — the commission only evaluates and makes recommendations on judges running in nonpartisan retention races, not contests where the judge's party is identified on the ballot. Judges need 57 percent of voter support to keep their seats.

Torres said in a news release that while several Bernalillo County judges did have fairly low scores among some of the people surveyed, such as court staff, law enforcement and probation and parole officers, the commission ultimately recommended retaining them either because they scored higher among other people surveyed or had improved since their midterm evaluations by the commission.

The release did not note any similar problems with either Vigil or Yohalem.

Torres said the commission, which consists of seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers, evaluates judges on legal ability, fairness, communication skills and factors such as preparation, attentiveness, temperament and control over the courtroom. The commission bases its recommendations on confidential surveys of lawyers, court staff and others who have regular contact with the judges.