Governor appoints retired colonel to Belen Magistrate Court bench
John R. Chavez left Valencia County years ago for a career in the Army, but after retiring, he’s returned home to continue serving in his hometown.
Chavez, 47, officially retired in November as a colonel in the U.S. Army after serving for more than 27 years. Less than two months later, Gov. Susana Martinez appointed him to serve as the Magistrate Division II bench in Belen.
The seat was vacated by former Judge Danny Hawkes, who retired in November. Chavez said he will run for the Republican nomination in the June primaries.
“Mr. Chavez dedicated his life to service as a U.S. Army officer,” said Gov. Martinez in a press release. “His outstanding leadership and organizational skills will serve the people of Valencia County.”
When Chavez returned home, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but he knew he wanted to continue serving in one way or another. He said the week he came back, he read the article about Hawkes’ retirement and decided he would give it a try and applied for the appointment.
“I knew I had to do something, and I thought I could do something defense related. I had some offers in Boston and Dallas, but our real driver was location,” Chavez said. “I could have done what I was doing in active duty as a civilian, but I chose the local route instead.”
Chavez said he and his wife, Holly, who live in Rio Communities, have five children and with his three older children having set down roots here, they decided that Valencia County is where they want to stay.
“We’ve been traveling for 27 years,” he said. “I love my hometown and I want to continue to serve here. When this opportunity came up, I researched what a magistrate did and I really got very excited about the opportunity, one, being local, and two, I thought it was something that I’m very qualified for.”
Chavez said as a military officer, one of his duties was to administer military justice, which, he said, is very similar to cases adjudicated in magistrate court.
“You’re dealing with alcohol-related offenses, domestic violence situations and simple assaults,” he said. “On the civil side, you’re responsible for directing investigations and (assigning) liability and reviewing contracts.”
While he initially didn’t think about being a judge after retirement, Chavez said he comes from a family who has been very active in the community in one way or another, including volunteering.
Chavez is the son of Rosalyn Chavez and the late Robert Chavez, and the grandson of former Belen Schools Superintendent John Aragon and the late Rose Aragon.
When asked what the community can expect from him on the bench, Chavez said as an established leader, he’s not afraid of making decisions and knows he will have to make some “tough calls” on the bench.
He said he will be making the best decisions possible, using his judicial philosophy in criminal court and looking for three outcomes — punishment, rehabilitation and deterrence.
“You have to keep a balance,” he said. “This is a court where people have an opportunity to rehabilitate people.”
Before he becomes certified to take the bench, Chavez will have to complete a judicial course administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts. He hopes to complete his course work soon and will hopefully take the bench in the coming weeks.
Raised in Belen, Chavez graduated from New Mexico Military Institute in 1984, and from NMMI Junior College in 1986. His career in the military started with the New Mexico Army National Guard in T or C while finishing his bachelor’s degree at New Mexico State University.
Upon graduation, he went active duty in 1990 and was stationed in Ft. Bliss in El Paso. During his time in the military, as an air defense officer, Chavez served all over the world, including in Germany, South Korea and several assignments at Ft. Bliss, as well as being deployed to several conflicts such as Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom.
During his time in the military, Chavez was awarded the Bronze Star with an oak leaf cluster, the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with seven oak leaf clusters and an Army Commendation with two oak leaf clusters.
He also earned two master’s degree in strategic studies and human resources.
Chavez’s leadership skills might have been fostered early in his youth when he achieved Eagle Scout, the highest status in the Boy Scouts. He said one of the requirements of being an Eagle Scout is being a leader in a troop, and he believes it established a foundation of leadership and goal setting.
Chavez and his wife, Holly, have been married for 26 years, and have five children, Rosemary, 26, Noelle, 24, who is married and has three children; John, 21, Sebastian, 12 and Nicolas, 10.
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