Making A Difference in Sandoval County
Courts not only stayed open during Covid, they evolved to better serve New Mexico’s residents
By Julie Vargas and Briana Zamora, Justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court
We’re proud— and honored—to be the newest members of your New Mexico Supreme Court. Appointed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in the past year—in the middle of a pandemic and unprecedented times—we are excited about the work of our judicial system in New Mexico.
It’s important for you to know that New Mexico courts have remained open and functioning during the entire pandemic. In fact, it has evolved to better serve our residents. While many businesses had to close or shorten hours, our courts never missed a beat. Of course, we had to make changes and do things differently, but the functions of the critical third branch of government continued.
The Supreme Court has supervisory authority over all of our state courts.
Justice Vargas has been active with the Court’s efforts to make sure that our system continues to function by ensuring that civil cases move forward efficiently so that they can be tried, and the parties can get a resolution.
These efforts have included finding alternate locations or innovative ways to conduct jury trials in larger (safer) settings, as many of our courtrooms are not large enough to allow for social distancing.
Most recently, the Court has worked to expand its foreclosure ediation program to districts outside of Bernalillo County and implemented a program to assist landlords and tenants to obtain federal funds to pay past-due rent and avoid eviction.
On the criminal side of the system, we are also working to ensure that both victims and defendants get their day in court as soon as possible.
Justice Zamora is spearheading an effort to make sure that criminal defendants who are in custody are taken to trial first, and those in need of competency examinations receive them in a timely manner so that cases can move forward.
We have also taken steps to make sure that criminal proceedings involving a defendant’s liberty interest or civil proceedings involving a parent’s right to raise his or her children are conducted with parties physically present at all times possible.
We also are encouraging the continued use and expansion of virtual hearings in matters where the parties’ presence is not necessary. Use of virtual hearings allows those facing transportation challenges and those who might be reluctant to come to the courthouse because of immigration concerns to attend hearings and participate in our system of justice.
The technological changes mandated by the pandemic have resulted in many of our courts, including the Supreme Court, broadcasting trials and hearings on platforms that permit remote and public viewing, allowing for expanded transparency.
Justice Zamora serves on the Supreme Court’s Steering Committee for the Commission on Equity and Justice. This Commission focuses on gathering data about and offering solutions to instances of racism and bias in the courts, educating judges and court staff about racism and bias, and creating a pipeline for a more diverse judiciary. The work of this commission is critical to make sure we serve all persons equitably, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income, language, ability, or education.
The Supreme Court has charged the Commission on Equity and Justice with collecting demographic data points across all case types and provide us with recommendations regarding areas where additional attention or training is needed, particularly in the areas of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation prevention, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.
The Supreme Court is working on updating court websites to include multiple languages and address disability access. We also plan to update the judiciary’s employment process and job descriptions to modify language that may exclude employees or applicants.
We’ve been busy! It’s because so many New Mexicans depend on efficient and thorough decisions. We love our job, and we appreciate the confidence placed in us.
We remain committed to making our courts more efficient and better prepared to serve you.
However, to keep doing this work—and working for you— we must run in the 2022 election to keep our seats. We need your help.
You can download our petitions at our websites:
As you can imagine, collecting petition signatures during a pandemic has been extremely difficult. So, even if you just return one signature, it helps immensely.