High court upholds disqualification of magistrate hopefuls
The N.M. Supreme Court has affirmed Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins’ disqualification of two magistrate judge candidates who aren’t attorneys, but left open the question of what to do about current magistrates in the county who aren’t lawyers.
The Supreme Court made no comment on the issue, but District Judge James T. Martin’s ruling states this:
“Magistrate Judges in counties with a population exceeding 200,000 must be members of the bar and licensed to practice law in New Mexico.”
That matches with Ellins’ decision to kick Democrats Paul A. Martinez and Keith E. LaMonica off the ballot last month. No other Democrats or Republicans filed for the seat, meaning an independent, minor-party or write-in candidate will be elected in November. One independent, former Court of Appeals Judge Beverly Singleman, has said she will run.
As of the 2010 Census, the county’s population is over the 200,000 threshold that triggers a state law that requires magistrate judges to be attorneys. Doña Ana County’s official population in 2010 was 209,233.
There are five magistrate judge positions in the county. The one that’s up for election this year is currently vacant. Three of the four current judges are not attorneys, and the way Martin worded his ruling, they “must be members of the bar and licensed to practice law in New Mexico.”
But the Supreme Court declined to tackle that issue, so the three remain judges for the time being. Whether they will be allowed to seek re-election in 2014 is unclear.
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