By Randal Seyler
Record Staff Writer
Friends, family and professional peers gathered Thursday at the Chaves County Courthouse to honor District Court Judge Charles Currier, who retired from the bench on Aug. 2.
Currier, longtime community leader, was appointed District Court Judge for the Judicial District in March of 2002. Besides Chaves County Courthouse staff, judges came from all over the state to honor him. Supreme Court Justice Petra Jimenez Maes of Santa Fe and Appeals Court Judge J. Miles Hanisee were among the dignitaries in attendance.
“This is a great honor, and I am humbled by your appearance,” Currier said to the crowd.
As a general jurisdiction trial court judge, Currier presided over criminal cases, domestic relations cases, civil and probate cases, and Children’s Court cases.
In spite of his impressive professional accomplishments, it was his humanitarianism and his concern for the people who came before him, especially families, that was remembered at his retirement celebration.
“I learned a lot from you as a judge, and as a teacher,” attorney Judy Pittman said to Currier, as she gently roasted him before a full courtroom. “As a teacher, you taught us the rules of civil procedure because we had to use them. I learned them from you better than in law school.”
Currier graduated from Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1970. He received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico in 1975. After passing the bar, he was in the private practice of law in both Albuquerque and Roswell for 27 years.
“Something few people know about Judge Currier is that he is both an Aggie and a Lobo,” joked District Court Judge Freddie Romero.
Romero described Currier as a private and humble man, who preferred to avoid the limelight.
As a lawyer, Currier tried numerous jury trials including capital murder criminal cases and a variety of civil cases. In addition, he tried over 200 non-jury trials throughout the State of New Mexico. He has argued cases in the New Mexico Court of Appeals, the New Mexico Supreme Court and the 10th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals.
During his career, Currier served as president of the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, was a member of both the Chaves County and Roswell planning and zoning commissions, started the first People’s Law School in New Mexico, and served as Chaves County probate judge for four years.
In 2012, he received the New Mexico State Bar Anniversary Award for Children’s Court.
One of Currier’s biggest accomplishments was the implementation of the First Steps Toward Reunification (FSTR) program in family court, which seeks to get families back together after the court has removed children from a home.
“In the court system, you are bombarded by the worst part of humanity,” said Dr. Bob Phillips of Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell. “But Judge Currier said some people can learn to become good parents, and his humanity and faith in people has changed their lives.”
Phillips said before the implementation of the FSTR program, which works to teach parents to create a safe home for their children, the reunification rate of parents with their children within a 12 month period was 41 percent, but after implementing the program, that percentage rose to 75 percent.
James Sumrow, who met the judge when he lost custody of his children due to his addiction, said Currier saved his family.
“I don’t think enough can be said for all the things Judge Currier has done,” Sumrow said. “He gave me hope, and he gave me a purpose for my life, and he got my family back for me. He is the definition of a humanitarian.”
Sumrow said he got his life back together and went to college, and one day Currier called him up and asked him if he would like a job. “I told myself I wasn’t going to cry,” Sumrow said, breaking up in tears. “My daughter just adores him,” Sumrow said of the judge. “And you should hear how proud she is when she says, ‘my daddy works for Judge Currier.’”
Currier said FSTR allows the court to help put families back together. “It is a sort of resurrection story, and everybody loves that,” he said. “Everybody is empowered by that.”
Currier said he had other duties than just family court, but it was his work with the families that was special to him. His wife, Shelly, recalled that Currier arrived at the courthouse at 6:30 every morning and left after 5 p.m., as well as working on weekends. “Even during his last week, he had over 50 cases, and I promise you he reviewed every one of them before that Monday. He was always prepared.”
Currier was also surprised by the appearance of Zemen Abebe at the retirement ceremony. Zemen is a young Ethiopian woman the judge and his wife Shelly sponsored for U.S. citizenship back in the late 1980s.
“I was a nurse in Africa in the 1980s, and I was working with a wonderful doctor, Dr. Abebe,” Shelly Currier recalled. “I asked him about sponsoring him to come to the U.S., and he asked if we could sponsor his sister, instead.”
Shelly Currier said she called up her husband, who was back in Roswell. “He could have said, ‘come home and we’ll talk about it,’ but instead he just said ‘let’s do it.’”
It took three years, but eventually Abebe came to the U.S. and lived with the Curriers in Roswell.
Abebe said she learned English by reading the newspaper every day then discussing the contents of what she had read with the judge that evening. “He was a great teacher, and a great mentor,” she said. Abebe went to school and worked her way from being a nurse’s assistant to being a licensed nurse practitioner with a bachelor’s degree. Abebe now lives in a suburb of Chicago and has three children, who also were in town to see Judge Currier honored.
Currier said he has birthday cards for Abebe’s children at the house. “I was getting ready to mail them, and here they are!”
Abebe said she will always remember Currier teaching her how to water ski.
“I never could get up on the skis that first day, but you never stopped believing in me, and you told me I could do anything if I put my mind to it,” Abebe said. “I feel so blessed, so privileged to say, ‘thank you, Charlie.’”