A fair judge to all for Court of Appeals
For the majority of my career I have been a people’s attorney, but my advocacy for workers’ rights ended when I took the oath of office as judge.
I was disappointed to see that you gave refuge to an attack piece by one of my opponent’s supporters. Judge races in particular should avoid such political assaults.
The letter ostensibly compares assignment and disqualification issues between the district court and the Workers’ Compensation Administration. I first want to say that it is difficult to compare the two because of differences in how statistics were collected and how they were reported and compiled. A meaningful comparison is difficult for the most seasoned statistician.
In addition, the law, regulation, procedure, number of judges and other factors between the two make a fair comparison impossible. For instance, there are currently 26 judges in the Second Judicial District Court, so the impact of disqualification is broadly distributed among many judges. At the Workers’ Compensation Administration, however, we currently have only five judges, and last summer the agency had only three judges before two new judges were appointed.
Nevertheless, despite the difficulty of comparison, it is true that the insurance industry has taken the lead in regularly utilizing a liberal disqualification process at the agency to shop for judges of their liking. This hyper-critical litigation approach, unfortunately, adds to the poor public perception of attorneys and our judicial system.
I am running for the New Mexico Court of Appeals because I want to help improve the public image of judges and our system of justice. As I have spoken with people about our courts on the campaign trail, they regularly express dissatisfaction with our judges, lawyers and the legal system in general. This perception is unfortunate, but it is one based in part on the extent to which attorneys and litigants will pursue every conceivable avenue to gain a perceived tactical advantage in litigation.
Thus, it is no surprise, but an unfortunate reality, that the insurance industry, third-party administrators and some governmental entities over the years have pursued the judge-disqualification process to secure an audience with judges they perceive will favor their interests. Justice is not about finding the most favorable judge, but about finding a judge who will be fair to all litigants and who will base decisions on a fair reading of the law and a thorough understanding of the facts presented.
Pursuing the greater good
Throughout my career, before becoming a Workers’ Compensation judge, I was a strong advocate for women and men who sustained work-related injuries. I have successfully pursued many workers’ compensation cases from negotiation, to trial, to appeal. I regularly promoted fairer Workers’ Compensation laws before our Legislature, and fought to prevent passage of laws that would hurt the working women and men of New Mexico.
For the majority of my career I have been a people’s attorney, and it is no wonder that my reputation as a protector of the “people” followed me to the bench.
But my advocacy for workers’ rights ended when I took the oath of office as judge. Every judge has a history, and most have been strong advocates for their clients, as I have been, but as judges we must set aside that propensity and pursue the greater good of securing equal justice under the law to all litigants.
That is what I do every day in my work as a judge, and what I would continue to do if elected as the next Court of Appeals judge.
Lopez, a Democrat, is a N.M. Worker’s Compensation judge and a candidate for a seat on the N.M. Court of Appeals.
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