Backlogged Cases at New Mexico Court of Appeals | The Line

Line Appeals Court

February 28, 2020  Years of underfunding and understaffing has the New Mexico Court of Appeals facing a logjam of cases, as highlighted in a Searchlight New Mexico article by Ike SwetlitzGene Grant and The Line opinion panel tackle the issue of the hundreds of cases in limbo due to that backlog at the state’s Court of Appeals and debate impacts as well as possible solutions.

Line Panelists:
Diane Denish, former NM lieutenant governor
Dan Foley, former state representative
Serge Martinez, professor, UNM School of Law
Diane Snyder, former state senator 

For Further Reading:
Full court pressed: New Mexico Court of Appeals is swamped with backlogged cases, leaving hundreds in limbo — Searchlight New Mexico 

Transcript:

>>GRANT: IN A STORY CALLED FULL COURT PRESS SEARCHLIGHT NEW MEXICO WEBSITE REPORTS THE STATE’S COURT OF APPEALS HAS A MASSIVE BACKLOG OF CASES AT LEAST 450, AS WE UNDERSTAND. THE OLD SAYING GOES, JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED. THE STORY HIGHLIGHTED A CRIMINAL APPEAL THAT HAS BEEN FILED 10 MONTHS EARLIER WITH ZERO ACTION. THAT MEANS THE APPELLANT IS IN PRISON WAITING FOR THINGS TO GET MOVING.  DISTURBING STORY. MANY PRONGS WHY THIS IS HAPPENING. FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS THE COURT OF APPEALS?  WOULD DO THEY HANDLE FOR PEOPLE NOT IN THE LEGAL FIELD?

>>MARTINEZ: IT IS NOT A TRIAL COURT WHERE YOU GO AND RAISE OBJECTIONS AND PUT ON EVIDENCE. IDEALLY, THE COURT OF APPEALS ADDRESSES WHETHER THE TRIAL COURT OR A LOWER COURT OF SOME SORT, ADMINISTRATIVE BODY, GOT THE LAW WRONG.  THEY DO WHAT WE LAWYERS LIKE TO THINK OF AS THE REAL LAWYERING, YOU KNOW, THE POLICY PART OF LAWYERING, THE THOUGHT OF WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY, WHAT DOES IT MEAN AND HOW DOES IT APPLY TO THIS CASE. IT IS A REAL IMPORTANT BODY TO SHAPE THE WAY WE INTERPRET THE LAWS WE HAVE IN NEW MEXICO. AND THEIR JOB IS TO REALLY MAKE SURE THERE IS CLARITY ON IMPORTANT ISSUES AND IF SOMETHING KEEPS COMING UP SAY, OKAY, WE NEED TO WEIGH IN ON THIS.

>>GRANT: MONEY IS A BIG FACTOR YOUR, IS IT JUST THAT OR MORE THAN MONEY THAT IS CAUSING THAT PROBLEM? THESE BACKLOGS?

>>MARTINEZ: MONEY IS A HUGE PART. THEY ARE UNDERSTAFFED, COULD USE A FEW MORE JUDGES, BUT THERE IS ALSO MORE CASES BEING FILED. FAR BE IT FROM ME TO SUGGEST THAT LAWYERS WOULD DO ANYTHING WRONG, EVER. BUT THE BACKLOG THAT THEY HAVE, RIGHT, THERE IS NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE TO DEAL WITH WHAT THEY CURRENTLY HAVE BUT THERE IS MORE STUFF THAT IS COMING DOWN THE ROAD AND SO, OBVIOUSLY THAT IS GOING TO LEAD TO TOUGH CHOICES AND WE EITHER HAVE TO MAKE IT UP ON THE FRONT END OR BACK END.

>>GRANT: INTERESTING TO READ THIS, IN THAT THE IDEA KIND OF BEHIND THE SCENES THING A LOT OF US ARE NOT PRIVY TOO. IT SEEMS CLEAR STAFF ISSUES ARE A BIG PART OF IT IN CONNECTION WITH THE MONEY ISSUE. HOW DO YOU FIX SOMETHING LIKE THAT? IT SEEMS DIFFICULT WHEN YOU READ THIS FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN, IF YOU DON’T HAVE THE MONEY, HOW DO YOU FIX THE STAFF PROBLEMS AND OTHER PROBLEMS THAT FOLLOW ALONG.

>>SNYDER: MONEY IS CLEARLY A PROBLEM. THE THING IS IT GOES BACK TO WHEN I WAS IN THE LEGISLATURE I REMEMBER IN 2001 AND 2002 THERE WAS A GREAT DISCUSSION ABOUT THE COURTS HAD BEEN GIVEN MINIMAL AMOUNTS OF MONEY. THEY WERE SO FAR BEHIND. EDUCATION HAD BEEN GIVEN TREMENDOUS INCREASES.  JUDGES HAD NOT EVEN BEEN GIVEN SALARY INCREASES AND SO THAT MEANS IF THE JUDGES AREN’T GETTING IT THEN STAFF ISN’T PROBABLY EITHER. IT IS A PROBLEM THAT IS BUILDING ON ITS HISTORY. I DO KNOW THERE WAS A REQUEST PUT IN. WHAT I DON’T KNOW BECAUSE I HAVEN’T SEEN THE FINAL VERSION OF HOUSE BILL 2 IS WHETHER THERE WAS A REQUEST PUT IN FOR ADDITIONAL MONEY FOR THE COURTS. SO, HOPEFULLY, THE APPEALS COURT IS ONE THAT GETS IT. THE THING THAT FASCINATED ME IS, I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY, IS THE CALENDARING PROCESS. THAT IS HOW YOU GET — DETERMINE THAT YOU ARE READY TO GO BEFORE AND BE CONSIDERED. AS I RECALL, THEY TOOK SOME OF THE STAFF DOING CALENDARING TO MOVE INTO OTHER AREAS, SO THAT PUT THEM EVEN FURTHER BEHIND. SO, I THINK YOU’RE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, WE NEED A COUPLE MORE JUDGES, WOULD BE MY SUGGESTION, AND CERTAINLY YOU NEED MORE STAFF. YOU SHOULDN’T BE TAKING STAFF AND DOING ONE IMPORTANT JOB AND PUTTING THEM IN ANOTHER POSITION. I THINK IT IS TIME WE BITE THE BULLET, WE BEING THE LEGISLATURE, IF WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A FAIR JUDICIAL SYSTEM WE HAVE TO SUPPORT THEM AND I THINK THAT IS WHAT THEY NEED TO DO.

>>GRANT: WHAT THE SENATOR JUST DESCRIBED IT ONLY TOOK A MERE MATTER OF MONTHS FOR THIS THING TO FALL OFF THE END OF THE TABLE ONCE THAT SWITCHING AROUND OF STAFF FROM THE CALENDARING HANDLING LIKE 900 APPEALS A YEAR.  WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THAT, THAT IS AMAZING, SPLITTING THEM BETWEEN THE EASY ONES AND HARD ONES AND MOVING THAT STAFF TO DEAL WITH THE HARD ONES AND LEFT THE FRONT END OF THE PIPELINE COMPLETELY VULNERABLE. ANYONE COULD SEE THIS COMING, IT SEEMS TO ME, BUT SOMEHOW IT DIDN’T GET DEALT WITH. WHAT IS YOUR SENSE OF WHY WE HAVEN’T GOTTEN AFTER THIS?

>>DENISH: WHEN TALKING ABOUT THE JUDGES THEMSELVES, THINK OF THE TURNOVER WE HAVE HAD AND I PERSONALLY KNOW SOME JUDGES WHO GOT THOSE JOBS AND THEN WERE SURPRISED WHAT THE JOB REALLY WAS, WHICH IS READING AND LISTENING TO ORAL ARGUMENT AND IT IS NOT SO MUCH, YOU KNOW, THEY DON’T THINK ABOUT IT. IT IS REALLY A LOT OF ON-THE-JOB TRAINING UNLESS THEY HAVE SPENT A LOT OF TIME AT THE APPEALS COURT. AND I DON’T KNOW THAT WE ARE GETTING ALL THE BEST QUALITY PEOPLE BECAUSE WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE JUDICIAL THAT I THINK IS REALLY IMPORTANT IS, FIRST OF ALL, THE PAY SCALE HAS BEEN LOW COMPARED TO STATES AROUND US. AS WELL AS TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR. GOOD LAWYERS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR, WELL RESPECTED BY THEIR PEERS, PEOPLE THAT YOU WANT TO APPLY FOR A JUDGE, THEY MAY LOOK AT THAT AND SAY, WELL, I AM NOT GOING TO DO IT. THE OTHER THING IS WE HAVE, INCLUDING THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION, BUT ALSO THE PREVIOUS GOVERNOR, DISPARAGING THE JUDICIARY. IF YOU’RE A WELL RESPECTED ATTORNEY IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR AND YOU MIGHT WANT TO BE A JUDGE, BUT YOU THINK, WHO NEEDS IT. BECAUSE THE JUDICIARY HAS BEEN SUBJECT TO ATTACKS AND THAT IS ACTUALLY RAMPING UP RIGHT NOW. THE SUBJECT TO ATTACKS. IT IS MY UNDERSTANDING FROM TALKING TO SOME OF THE PEOPLE IN THE LEGAL COMMUNITY AND SERGE WOULD KNOW MORE ABOUT THIS, BUT THEY ARE OPTING OUT FOR MEMORANDUMS AS OPPOSED TO FORMAL OPINIONS WHICH, THEN, DOESN’T GIVE LAWYERS WHAT THEY NEED, WHICH IS ESTABLISHED LAW TO GUIDE LAWYERS THROUGH, YOU KNOW, MAKING LAW IN NEW MEXICO. AND YOU SAID IT BEST AT THE BEGINNING. THE PEOPLE WHO CAN WEATHER THE DELAYS, IT BENEFITS THEM. THE PEOPLE WHO NEED OPINIONS AND NEED IT TO MOVE AHEAD, MAY BE GOING TO THE SUPREME COURT, THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE YEARS GO BY, PEOPLE FORGET, YOU KNOW, THINGS CAN HAPPEN. SO, I THINK THERE IS MULTIPLE FACTORS, INCLUDING JUDICIAL SALARIES AND STAFF SALARIES. I THINK THERE IS A LOT OF THINGS WITH THE JUDICIARY. THE PREVIOUS GOVERNOR DIDN’T WANT TO FUND THE JUDICIARY AND THAT PUT US IN MORE DIRE CIRCUMSTANCES.

>>GRANT: THAT IS RIGHT.  DAN, THE UPSHOT FOR VICTIMS OF THE SYSTEM IF YOU WANT TO THINK ABOUT IT THAT WAY, IT IS A REAL DIFFICULTY, YOU KNOW. THE STORY IN SEARCHLIGHT OPENED WITH THE CASE OF A YOUNG MAN IN LEA COUNTY. HE HAS BEEN IN JAIL FOR 10 MONTHS WAITING FOR A DECISION ON HIS APPEAL FOR A MURDER CHARGE. JUST INCREDIBLE LACK OF INERTIA, MOVEMENT TO GET THINGS GOING. IT GOES DOWN FROM THERE. SERGE MENTIONED, YOU CAN APPEAL A LOT OF THINGS OUT THERE BUT YOU HAVE GOT TO HAVE CLARITY FAIRLY QUICKLY TO GET YOUR LIFE MOVING AGAIN.

>>FOLEY: THERE IS 450 BACKLOG CASES, SOUNDS LIKE THEY SHOULD EACH TAKE 45. YOU MIGHT HAVE TO WORK WEEKENDS, OVERTIME, YOU KNOW, IN THE REAL WORLD, YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU’RE NOT WORKING AS A JUDGE THAT GETS TO COME IN, SIT AT THE BENCH AND DICTATE EVERYTHING TO THE STAFF, YOU GOT TO GET THE JOB DONE. WHEN YOU TAKE THE JOB AND SAY, WELL, I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND HOW ALL THIS READING AND ALL THIS STUFF THAT GOES WITH IT, IT IS AN INSANE PROCESS AND I GOT TO AGREE, THESE CASES ARE UNBELIEVABLY IMPORTANT BECAUSE THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE SAYING, I WAS WRONGED BY THE SYSTEM. SO, IF WE CAN’T FIGURE OUT A WAY TO ADDRESS THIS — NOW, I WILL ALSO SAY THERE HAS GOT TO BE SOME, LOOK, MAYBE I AM NOT THE RIGHT GUY FOR THE JOB BUT HAS ANYBODY APPROACHED THE LAW SCHOOL, DIVIDING THESE CASES INTO HARD AND EASY, WE HAVE A LAW SCHOOL, GO THROUGH, UTILIZE SOME OF THE STUDENTS TO GO THROUGH SOME OF THE EASY CASES AND LET’S GIVE US SOME FIRST GLANCE PRIMA FACIE LOOK AT THIS STUFF AND WE CAN TURN-AROUND AND SAY NOW LET’S GO AHEAD AND –

>>GRANT: WOULD THAT WORK, SOMETHING LIKE TO?  IT IS A GREAT IDEA.  DOES IT WORK IN THE REAL LEGAL WORLD.

>>MARTINEZ: I DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE CONSTITUTIONAL LEGALITY. I KNOW IT WOULD BE PROBABLY CONTROVERSIAL TO HAVE A LAW STUDENT WEIGHING IN ON A MATTER.

>>DENISH: THERE IS ANOTHER ELEMENT OF WHAT HAPPENS TO JUDGES. THEY GET APPOINTED AND THEY HAVE TO RUN. THEY GO THROUGH JUDICIAL SELECTION AND MANY TIMES JUDGES ARE NOT REALLY POLITICAL PEOPLE. THEY HAVE TO BECOME POLITICAL PEOPLE AND THEN THEY ARE RUNNING, OF COURSE, THEY CAN’T TALK ABOUT ANYTHING THEY MAY HAVE TO RULE ON.  AND THEY DON’T REALIZE — AND THEN THEY HAVE TO — THEY ARE JUDGING, THEY ARE RUNNING, THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE READ OPINIONS AT NIGHT. THEY ARE GOING TO HAVE TO FIGURE OUT THAT WHOLE SCHEDULE.

>>GRANT: HERE IS WHAT GETS ME, THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE OUT THERE I HAVE TO IMAGINE ARE FULLY INNOCENT AND THEY KNOW IT. THAT IS WHY THEY HAVE APPEALED.

>>FOLEY: IF IT WAS A PERFECT WORLD, RIGHT, YOU WOULD KNOW, THERE IS A PERCENTAGE OUT THERE, IF YOU HAVE 100 CASES, 4% OF THEM ARE GOING TO BE WRONG. JUST, HUMAN NATURE PLAYS IN. WITHOUT ANY TILTING OF THE SCALES, 4%. SO, IF YOU LIKE AT THAT 450 BACKLOG, YOU’RE TALKING 12 PEOPLE, THERE IS 12 OR 13 PEOPLE WITHOUT US EVEN TALKING ABOUT IT, THAT ARE IN THE WRONG PLACE AND THEY ARE STILL SITTING THERE.

>>GRANT: THAT IS RIGHT. BY THE WAY, ON ANOTHER ONE OF DAN’S POINTS, IS IT A PANEL THAT LOOKS AT THESE THINGS? CAN YOU ACTUALLY DIVVY THESE THINGS UP INDIVIDUALLY?

>>MARTINEZ: EACH CASE GETS ASSIGNED TO A PARTICULAR JUDGE AND THEY ARE ALL ASSIGNED TO DO X NUMBER OF CASES. I THINK RIGHT NOW THEY ARE TRYING TO DO FOUR CASES A MONTH WHICH SOUND LIKE EASY WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT, BUT IT IS A CHALLENGE TO DO THAT BECAUSE OF ALL THE READING AND UNDERSTANDING OF LAW, RESEARCH AND WRITING OF OPINIONS. SO, IT IS UNFORTUNATE FOR A JUDGE BUT SOME JUDGES HAVE MORE EXPERIENCE.

>>FOLEY: IN LAW SCHOOL, YOU HAVE THESE STUDENTS THAT APPLY FOR WORKING FOR THE JUDGES. IT IS NOT INTERNSHIP.  IT IS AN INTERNSHIP BUT CALLED SOMETHING ELSE, CLERKSHIP. THEY GET THE CLERKSHIP. THAT IS THEORETICALLY WHO IS LOOKING AT THIS STUFF FIRST. I DON’T KNOW WHY WE COULDN’T BE TAKING OUR SECOND AND THIRD YEAR LAW SCHOOL STUDENTS AND SAY, WE HAVE DIVIDED THEM INTO EASY AND HARD, LET’S WORK AND GIVE THESE GUYS SOME REALTIME CASE EXPERIENCE WORKING ON THE EASY STUFF. BUT, I MEAN, I AM NOT SAYING THAT WE SHOULD MANDATE THAT. WE GO TO THE LAW SCHOOL AND SAY DOES THIS WORK. I WOULD SAY THIS IN DEFERENCE TO MY FRIEND SERGE WHO I THINK IS A GREAT GUY AND APPRECIATE WHAT HE DOES. IN NEW MEXICO, WE ALSO HAVE A STATE FUNDED LAW SCHOOL. SO IT IS NOT LIKE WE ARE TELLING PEOPLE, HEY, ALL THIS PRIVATE MONEY COMES IN AND RUNS THE LAW SCHOOL, YOU’RE NOT TELLING US WHAT TO DO, WE HAVE A STATE FUNDED LAW SCHOOL. THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY WE COULD BE AT THE LEADING EDGE AND SAY YOU HAVE COME HERE AND YOU GET MORE TIME BEFORE YOU EVEN GET TO COURT, YOU GET TO WORK ON REAL CASES YOUR SECOND YEAR OF LAW SCHOOL.

>>DENISH: THE OTHER THING IS THIS GOES ALL THE WAY DOWN THE SYSTEM, STARTING AT METRO, DISTRICT AND SMALL CLAIMS. THEY ARE NOT EVEN SOME ATTORNEYS IN REALLY SMALL COMMUNITIES AND PEOPLE HAVE TO TRAVEL BUT THEY HAVE TO HAVE JUDGES FROM AROUND THOSE COMMUNITIES.

>>FOLEY: MY DAUGHTER GOT A SPEEDING TICKET OVER BY MORIARTY, ESTANCIA, AND SHE SAID SHE DIDN’T SPEED. SHE DID BY THE WAY, BUT CLAIMED SHE DIDN’T. SO WE WENT TO THE HEARING. THE JUDGE DIDN’T HAVE HOURS SO STARTED AT 5:30 P.M. WE WERE SCHEDULES AT 7:00. SHE GETS UP THERE, THE JUDGE SAYS TO HER — HE COMES IN WITH CAMOUFLAGE PANTS ON AND A T-SHIRT.  HE RAN LIKE THE HARDWARE STORE AND I SAY TO MY DAUGHTER JUST PLEAD NO CONTEST AND YOU HAVE NEVER HAD A TICKET BEFORE. SHE GETS UP THERE AND JUDGE SAYS, NO CONTEST?  SHE GOES GUILTY. HE SAYS, I THINK YOU MEAN NO CONTEST. NO, SHE SAID GUILTY, GUILTY. AND I YELLED FROM THE BACK, NO CONTEST. GUILTY. AND THE JUDGE WAS LIKE LET’S TAKE A BREAK. SHE SAID, I GOT SO NERVOUS I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY.

>>GRANT: THE COURT OF APPEALS IS ASKING FOR 6.8 MORE MILLION DOLLARS TO SOLVE THESE PROBLEMS.  WE WILL TAKE A BREATHER.  DAN IS GOING TAKE A BREATH AND WE’LL BE BACK IN A MOMENT TO TALK ABOUT HOMELESSNESS AND HOW CITIES HERE IN NEW MEXICO ARE RESPONDING TO IT.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *