The 5th Judicial District is now actively seeking a replacement for the late Judge Ralph Shamas, who passed away last week. Raylene Weis, judicial selection coordinator, admitted that it would be a difficult to replace a man who was so highly respected in the community.
President of the State Bar Drew Cloutier, of Hinkle, Hensley, Shanor & Martin L.L.P., a local law firm agreed. “He was very fair and very thorough. It was a pleasure to present a case before him.”
The official title for the post is general jurisdiction judge. Chairman of the 5th Judicial District nominating committee Barbara Bergman will be accepting applications, although inquiries for details about the post are supposed to be directed to the chief judge or the administrator of the Court.
Those who apply must meet specific criterion outlined in New Mexico Constitution, Article VI, Section 14.
“For the District, the applicant has to be a minimum age and have practiced law for a minimum number of years,” said Weis.
State requirements for District Court judge state the candidate must be an attorney, at least 35 years old, with a minimum experience of six years. Each district judge must reside in the district for which he was elected or appointed.
Each candidate will meet with the Nominating Committee, which is a complex affair, with a representative from the State Supreme Court and the Chief Judge of the 5th Judicial District Gary Klingman, of Lea County, as two of the members. The governor, the State Legislature — both Senate and House — each appoint two members, one lay person and one attorney. The New Mexico Court of Appeals will also designate a representative.
Cloutier said three judges sit on the committee. After the process of selection, there will be nine members. The State Bar then reviews those who have been designated to ensure both parties are represented. The Bar will appoint three additional members from local lawyers. “We balance out the committee to make sure it is not skewed either racially or by gender.”
Cloutier said the dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law attends as non-voting member. Klingman added the dean only votes as a tie breaker.
“The applicants are each allotted 20 to 30 minute interviews. The panel that interviews is provided with an advance copy of the application. Each member of the committee is permitted to ask one question, or defer if another has already asked that question,” Weis explained.
The Judicial Nominating Committee will meet Feb. 14, at the Chaves County Courthouse. “The public is welcome to sit in on those meetings,” Weis said.