Ralph Shamas is sworn in as a judge for the 5th Judicial District at the Chaves County Courthouse in this June 17, 2005, file photo. Shamas died Thursday. He was 65. (Record File Photo)
The Honorable Ralph D. Shamas, 65, died Thursday morning after a month-long battle with cancer. His office stands empty, just the way he left it, with everything neat and tidy, his pending cases stacked awaiting his touch.
His loss is profoundly felt by the people who worked with him at Chaves County 5th District Court.
Judge Charles C. Currier spoke about his colleague’s start as an advocate in 1974. “He was joint partners with Tandy Hunt. I was partners with him in Tandy Hunt’s firm for a little while. He was appointed judge by Gov. Richardson in June of 2005.”
Currier called Shamas an extremely strong advocate for his clients. Currier said it was something Shamas carried over when he became a judge. “He was a great asset to the judiciary. It’s going to be difficult to find anyone with his ability to fill his shoes.”
Judge Freddie J. Romero said he had known Shamas since 1982 when Romero first moved to Roswell. He talked about Shamas’ deep commitment to his clients. “He brought those qualities to the judiciary.”
Romero echoed Currier’s views that Shamas was an asset to both Roswell and Chaves County. “Anyone who sat in his court knew he’d make his decision based on the facts with fidelity to the law. He was dedicated and committed to doing the right thing,” said Romero.
Judge Steven L. Bell discussed Shamas as both an adversary and a friend. “I’ve known Ralph for 34 years. We were always on the opposite side of a case, except one time when we had the same client, and I was thrilled to work with him. Often when I faced him, I wondered, ‘How am I going to win this case?’”
Bell referred to Shamas as an extremely capable judge who had a passion for the underdog. “He always represented the underdog, and he never took a case that he did not believe in. If he thought a client was lying to him, he told them to hit the road.”
His one-time partner attorney Tandy Hunt described the man and his background. “He was the son of a Lebanese immigrant who came to Roswell to become grocer. He (Judge Shamas) grew up on the east side of Roswell and attended school here, including Mesa Middle School. He was an outstanding student at the University of New Mexico.”
According to Hunt, Shamas had a varied practice, but he concentrated on representing individuals rather than businesses. “He’s one of Roswell’s favorite sons and one of the best judges we’ve ever had.”
Hunt admitted that as a judge Shamas held attorneys to a high standard. “He demanded a high level of practice from a lawyer, but for a young attorney this was a good thing.”
District Attorney Janetta Hicks, too, discussed his concern for the drowntrodden and his defense upon the bench for those who were mentally handicapped. “He was a judge who took his responsibilities seriously. His responsibility to the public was a priority in everything he did.”
Deputy District Attorney Michael Murphy said, “Judge Shamas was always impressive in his courtroom demeanor. He was always very polite and very good with litigates.”
Public defender Harry Wilcox referred to Shamas’ death as a great loss to the bench. Wilcox called Shamas a great defender of the Constitution. “He was one of the best judges I’ve appeared before. … I’m going to miss him dearly.”
Even those who did not work with Shamas directly spoke highly of him. Sgt. J.L. Tutor, who supervised sheriff’s deputies at the court house, said, “I always felt he was a fair judge. I was impressed with him and the way he dealt with jurors.
District Attorney investigator Pat Barncastle told the Record, “He was a fair judge who protected the defendant, but he was hard on crime and stern on sentencing.”
Shamas’s life was an example that left a mark on the people of this community and his passing has left a gap that will not be easily filled.