Meet the Candidates

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Judge Heather R. Benavidez

Heather R. Benavidez (I)

Age: 42

Occupation: Magistrate Judge, Division I - Valencia County

Education: Master of Public Administration (UNM), B.A., Political Science, (UNM)

Previous elected political offices: Municipal judge, city of Rio Communities, 2013-20

Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony in New Mexico or in another state? “I have never been arrested or convicted of a DWI or felony.”

1. Describe your qualifications and experience for this office, and explain your reasons for running. How would you be an asset?

“As the incumbent, I am running to continue my dedicated service to the people of Valencia County. My education, combined with 17 years of experience in the judiciary, have given me the knowledge, temperament and skills necessary to make fair and just decisions.”

2. How would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?

“Court proceedings move quickly and it’s important to be prepared. Examining case files before scheduled hearings allows me to research unfamiliar material. New Mexico OneSource is helpful to review rules and statutes, UNM’s Judicial Education Center offers case tutorials, and consulting with my mentor judge strengthens my comprehension.”

3. Do judges have an obligation to improve public understanding of the courts? If so, how should they carry out that obligation?

“As an elected official I work for the people and have an obligation to improve the public’s understanding of the courts. As judge, I’ve written articles explaining court procedures and participated in career days at schools. Court proceedings are open to the public and observers are welcome in my courtroom.”

4. What is your position regarding alternative courts to meet our community’s needs such as drug courts, mental health courts, veterans’ courts, etc.?

“As the associate judge for the county’s DWI/Drug Court I see first-hand how alternative courts can have a positive impact on both the participants and the community. I will advocate for the creation of much needed additional alternative courts to address mental health and domestic violence, and to help veterans.”

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Miles Tafoya (R)

Elected to Magistrate Court Division 1 bench

Miles Tafoya

Age: 34

Occupation: Surveillance officer, Valencia County DWI Drug Court

Education: Bachelor’s in business administration

Previous elected political offices: None

Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a DWI or a felony in New Mexico or in another state? “Yes, I was convicted of a DWI in 2005. This led me in a positive direction — the Army. I am proof that the court system works.”

1. Describe your qualifications and experience for this office, and explain your reasons for running. How would you be an asset?

“I have seven years of experience working within a problem-solving court that helps people get back on track. I want to be a voice of reason and fairness. I have real world knowledge and understanding of the tough issues we face in our community.”

2. How would you prepare yourself to handle cases involving unfamiliar areas of the law?

“I will ask questions of my mentor judge if something is unclear to me. I’ve seen many unique cases through the years and have been mentored by some of the finest judges around. I will study every day to familiarize myself with areas outside my expertise.”

3. Do judges have an obligation to improve public understanding of the courts? If so, how should they carry out that obligation?

“Absolutely! Before court starts, a judge can outline the case and explain what the prosecution, defense and judge’s roles are. Also, a judge can explain why they can or cannot issue as a sentence. This will give the public a more realistic understanding of what happens in court.”

4. What is your position regarding alternative courts to meet our community’s needs such as drug courts, mental health courts, veterans’ courts, etc.?

“I am a firm believer in alternative courts. Alternative courts deal with root issues such as, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health issues, and not just the symptoms of the problem. Alternative courts give people a chance to make a positive change with the right mix of compassion and accountability.”

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