Ralph Shamas

January 17, 2013 • Obituaries


District [auth] Judge Ralph Davis Shamas, 64, passed away Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at his home in Roswell.

Judge Shamas was born in Roswell on Oct. 30, 1948. He was the youngest of three children born to Joseph Bashara Shamas Sr. from Dudghria, Lebanon, and Flora Smith Shamas of Melrose. He grew up in Roswell and attended St. Peter Catholic School to the fifth grade, Mesa Middle School, North Junior High, Roswell High School, and was a member of the first graduating class of Goddard High School in 1966. He received his undergraduate degree at UNM in 1970, where he was a member of SAE fraternity. In May 1973, he received his Juris Doctorate Cum Laude from the University of Iowa, and served on and was published in the Law Review.

Judge Shamas began his 32-year legal career with Atwood, Malone, Turner and Sabin in 1973-1977, where he was made partner. In 1977-1979, he was a partner in the Hunt and Shamas Law Firm, the only plaintiff’s firm in Roswell at that time, where he was the first lawyer in Chaves County in 25 years to win a punitive damages award from a jury. In 1979, he opened his solo practice as a plaintiff’s and criminal defense lawyer. At that time, he was the first lawyer in the state of New Mexico to receive a $1 million verdict for a wrongful death. This case was tried with current Judge Charles Currier. In 1985-1991, he began a partnership with K. Douglas Perrin and Phil Brewer.

Judge Shamas then took a sabbatical from practicing law for 1 1/2 years to train and race his beloved racehorses at Ruidoso Downs, Sunland Park, Albuquerque Downs, Turf Paradise, Santa Anita, Los Alimatos, Golden Gate, Raton and Santa Fe. He also trained for his close friends and their families, Paul Taylor Jr. and Paul Taylor III, becoming a leading trainer in New Mexico.

In Judge Shamas’ earlier years of practice, he represented four capital murder cases, receiving not guilty verdicts. In the 1990s, while in private practice, he was the lead attorney for Clay vs. Ferrell Gas Co., which was decided in his favor in the United States Supreme Court. This was a landmark case which set precedent for “the greater the danger, the higher the standards.” The case has become standard use not only in New Mexico, but also our sister states of Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma. Every defendant or plaintiff Judge Shamas represented was held dear to his heart. He represented them to the fullest of his ability, and more often than not, he was successful. Practicing the law was his passion.

In 2005, Judge Shamas was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson to fill the vacant seat in Division VI for the 5th Judicial District, representing Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties for the state of New Mexico. In 2006, he was elected to this position, and served until his death.

During his time on the bench, Judge Shamas became an avid golfer, joining a standing tee time of 1 p.m. on Sundays at NMMI golf course, with his golfing buddies Judge Steven Bell, Jim Schultz, Matt Reinsmoen, Dr. Hugh Burroughs and Alberto Goenaga. Anyone who wished to join them was always welcome.

Judge Shamas was a member of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, New Mexico Bar Association and the Chaves County Bar Association until he became a district judge.

On Feb. 16, 1977, he married Elizabeth Anderson Clark in Valdosta, Ga. His wife survives him at their home in Roswell.

Judge Shamas was preceded in death by his parents Joseph and Flora Shamas; his brother Jerry Shamas (age 11 days); and sisters, Annie, Mable, Gloria and Martha Shamas.

He is survived by his brother Joseph Bashara Shamas Jr. of Roswell; Joe’s children, Bonnie Berry and husband Tom, of Roswell, Denise Gardner, of Dallas, Phillip Shamas and Greg Shamas and wife Martha, of Albuquerque; his dearly beloved sister Joanna Shamas Lyle, of California, and her daughter Lisa Lyle Hernandez and husband Joel, of Albuquerque, and her daughter Madeleine King, of Las Cruces; Judge Shamas’ children, Ralph Shamas Jr., of Houston, Kathryn Elizabeth Wilson and her husband Kevin, and their children Amanda Margaret and Ian Thomas, of Mesa, Ariz., Kristen Leigh Heyburn and her husband Paul, and their children, John Rice and Elizabeth Anne, of Houston; his brothers-in-law, Dr. Mark C. Clark and wife Catherine, and their children, Sophie and Mark, of Winter Park, Fla., Timothy Thatcher Clark and wife Jennifer, and their children, Caroline, Thatcher and Greycyn, of Winter Park; and many nieces, nephews and cousins. Also his dearly beloved 15-year-old Schnauzer, YaDeeNee (“you sweet thing” in Lebanese).

Judge Shamas was known to be a fair, ethical and compassionate district judge who thoroughly studied every brief and motion presented to him. He was always prepared to hear a case and expected his lawyers to do the same. The supreme court of the state of New Mexico in a decision in one of his cases called him “our District Judge” wherein Judge Shamas saw fit to “right a wrong.”

For him it was an honor to serve his community and he leaves behind many dear family and friends. He will be missed greatly, most especially by his wife Elizabeth.

A rosary will be led by Sharon Bell on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, at 7 p.m., at St. Peter Church. A funeral Mass service, with the Rev. Charlie Martinez, OFM, officiating, will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, at 1 p.m., at St. Peter Church. Following the Mass, Judges Charles Currier, Steven Bell and Freddie Romero, along with attorney Phil Brewer, will speak briefly at St. Peter Church. A reception in honor of Judge Shamas will immediately follow at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, and all are welcome to attend.

Funeral directions are under the care of Ballard Funeral Home.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in memory of Judge Ralph D. Shamas to the American Cancer Society or Vista Care Hospice.

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