High court won't hear judges' case

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Two attorneys who were appointed to the 13th Judicial Court bench but snubbed by the Democratic Party to be placed on November's ballot have once again been ignored, but this time by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Republican Gov. Susanna Martinez appointed Democrats Pedro Rael, of Los Lunas, to the vacant District VI position left by retired Judge Violet Otero last month, and Gina Manfredi, of Rio Rancho, to a newly-created judgeship in Sandoval County.

But the party's central committee voted against the two, instead nominating Los Lunas attorney Cindy Mercer for the Valencia County seat, and Bernalillo attorney Christopher Perez for the Sandoval County seat.

The 13th Judicial District Court is comprised of Valencia, Sandoval and Cibola counties.

Rael and Manfredi filed writs of prohibition and alternative writ of mandamus, asking the high court to prevent the process of allowing a state central committee to nominate a candidate and that their names be placed as the Democratic Party's nominee on the Nov. 4 general election ballot instead.

But late last week, just days after the petitions were filed, the New Mexico Supreme Court sent a letter, informing them it wouldn't hear their cases.

Rael and Manfredi will take their positions as district court judges on Aug. 1, but as of now, they will have to give up their seats once the general election ballots are canvassed.

Rael, a former Valencia County commissioner, said he is not giving up, and has hired an Albuquerque attorney to re-file his petition in district court in Santa Fe.

Mercer, who won the central committee's nomination by one vote on July 12, said she was hoping to see the end of the dispute after the Supreme Court made its ruling not to hear the case and move forward.

"I will rely on the courts to make an appropriate decision," Mercer said. "I believe the central committee's vote was fair."

According to Rael's petition, he asked the high court to prevent the process of allowing a state central committee to nominate a candidate and that his name be placed as the party's nominee on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

Because of the timing of Otero's retirement, it was too late for those wanting to run for the seat to be placed on the primary election ballot in June. The solution, according to state statute, is for the major political parties to nominate their candidates to run in the general election.

Rael argues that state statute shouldn't apply when a judicial selection committee has thoroughly vetted all the candidates before the central committee elects its nominee.

"Why do we need a state central committee to quickly throw someone in there and dislodge the process?" Rael asked.

He also argued that Sen. Michael Sanchez, who is a voting member of the committee, had a conflict of interest voting for Mercer because she is an associate in his Los Lunas law firm.

"The one and overriding reason is I thought that at the central committee meeting, when I saw Sen. Sanchez using his position to vote to promote his own law firm, not only to me but to his constituents," Rael said. "This is a substitute for a primary election and he's representing 15,000 to 20,000 voters in the district. He's essentially using public trust to promote his law practice."

Rael also claimed in his petition that Jose Campos, the director of the Valencia County Older Americans Program and a voting member of the state central committee, voted for Mercer "out of fear of losing his job." Rael claimed that Sanchez pressured Campos into voting for his law partner.

But in an interview with Campos last week, he denied the allegation, saying he voted for Mercer "because she's a qualified candidate. I had committed to Cindy Mercer a long time ago."

When asked if Sanchez had pressured him to vote for Mercer, Campos said, "Michael has never pressured me on anything. He's more professional than that … The senator has always been great and gracious and he's always been there to help the seniors and the community. He's never pressured me to vote for anyone; I'm pretty independent. When I make up my mind, I stick to it."

Mercer, who said Sanchez didn't want to comment, said she had asked Campos for his support months ago when she heard Otero was thinking of retiring.

"I looked into the process and reached out to several committee members as early as March," she said. "(Campos) had made me aware of several events and that's when I got to know him and asked him for his support."

Rael also claimed in the petition that several central committee members didn't follow the rules by only writing Mercer's last name on the ballot. He also argues that the "appropriate notice" of the meeting wasn't published in a newspaper of general circulation.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.