Investiture ceremony for Judge Julie Vargas to be held on February 17

Judge Julie Vargas
Judge Julie Vargas

The investiture ceremony for Judge Julie Vargas of the New Mexico Court of Appeals will be held tomorrow afternoon, beginning at 4:00 p.m., at the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Bank of America Theater, located at 1701 4th Street SW in Albuquerque. A reception will follow. I plan to attend, and hope to see you there!

If you would like to know more about Judge Vargas, please read my interview with her.



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Judge Linda Vanzi elected as Chief Judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals

Today’s Bar Bulletin announces (at p. 9) that Linda Vanzi has been unanimously elected as Chief Judge of the New Mexico Court of Appeals. She replaces Judge Michael Vigil, who swore her into office on January 17.

Chief Judge Vanzi has served on the Court of Appeals since 2009. Before that, she served as a trial judge on the Second Judicial District Court. In both positions she has developed a reputation as a decisive, fair, and hard-working judge.

Congratulations to Chief Judge Vanzi!


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Roundup of links discussing the Gorsuch nomination

As you have doubtless heard by now, President Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch, of our very own Tenth Circuit, to fill the Supreme Court seat held by Justice Antonin Scalia until his death last February.

About five years ago I began a practice of reading every Judge Gorsuch opinion because they are so well-written. The impression I’ve formed of him is that he’s incredibly brilliant, impartial, serious, and devoted to the Constitution.

Here’s a roundup of links about this nomination. Naturally, conservatives are more enthusiastic about Judge Gorsuch than liberals (the latter probably disagree with Judge Gorsuch’s jurisprudence, and are unhappy with how Senate Republicans treated President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland). But I’ll post links from all sides that I can find (if you know of any that I’ve missed and should include here, please e-mail me!):

Trump Nominates Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Mark Landler of the New York Times.

Trump picks Colo. appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court by Robert Barnes of the Washington Post.

Trump nominates Gorsuch to fill Scalia vacancy by Amy Howe at SCOTUSblog.

Neil Gorsuch: A Worthy Heir to Scalia by Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review.

Donald Trump nominates Colorado’s Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court by Mark K. Matthews, John Frank, and David Migoya in the Denver Post.

Why Liberals Should Back Neil Gorsuch by Neal Katyal in the New York Times.

Neil Gorsuch Is Not a Villain by Mark Joseph Stern at

Is It Payback Time For Blocking Merrick Garland? by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones.

Neil Gorsuch, Elite Conservative by Prof. Noah Feldman at

Numerous posts about Gorsuch by Ed Whelan at National Review’s Bench Memos blog.

And here’s a list of other links of to reactions by people and organizations, in support of and opposition to the nomination, posted at SCOTUSblog.



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Justice Alito to visit Albuquerque on February 14

Justice Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States will be visiting Albuquerque on Tuesday, February 14, where he will hold a “Fireside Chat.”

The event will be held at the old Federal Courthouse Building at 421 Gold Avenue SW in downtown Albuquerque. Lunch will be served at 11:15 a.m. The program will begin at noon and conclude around 1:00 p.m.

The Inns of Court, the Federalist Society, and the Federal Bar Association are co-sponsoring this event. You can register through the Federalist Society at this link. It may also be possible to register through the Inns of Court or the FBA, but if so I don’t have links to those! Space is limited, so if you are interested in attending, you should register soon.

Justice Harris Hartz of the Tenth Circuit will be posing questions to Justice Alito. If you’d like to submit a question for consideration, please e-mail them to

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NM Supreme Court: Probation term does not expire if defendant absconds

When a term of probation expires, it means the defendant has satisfied all criminal liability, and is entitled to a certificate from a court saying so. See NMSA 1978, sec. 31-20-8. The term of probation is tolled, however, if the defendant is a fugitive from justice. See NMSA 1978, sec. 31-21-15(C).

Last January, the Court of Appeals issued a controversial decision in State v. Begay, holding Section 31-21-15(C) applies only to sentences imposed by a district court, not a magistrate court (where defendant Begay was sentenced).

The upshot was that if a defendant violated his probation, and managed to avoid capture until after the original term of probation expired, then he would get off scot-free, since his probation could no longer be revoked.

The legislature and governor found this to be … less than satisfactory, and immediately amended the tolling statute to clarify that it applies to probation sentences imposed by magistrate courts too.

Yesterday the Supreme Court also pronounced itself less than satisfied, and reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision. The unanimous opinion in State v. Begay, written by Justice Nakamura, acknowledges that the plain language of Section 31-20-8 does not say that a term of probation doesn’t expire while a defendant is on the lam. But interpreting the statute in that way would lead to absurd results, because doing so would incentivize defendants to violate the terms of their probation and then attempt to evade the reach of the court until their probationary terms ended.

Thus, employing the “absurdity canon,” the Supreme Court held that a term of probation does not expire under Section 31-20-8 where a defendant becomes a fugitive from justice while on probation. I agree that this is the right result.

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Gov. Martinez appoints Henry “Hank” Bohnhoff to the NM Court of Appeals

This afternoon Governor Martinez announced the appointment of Henry “Hank” Bohnhoff to fill the seat on the New Mexico Court of Appeals vacated by Judge Roderick Kennedy.

Mr. Bohnhoff is a highly-regarded lawyer and has enjoyed a distinguished career for over 30 years. He graduated from Stanford University in 1978, and from Columbia Law School in 1982. He clerked for Chief Judge Howard C. Bratton of the federal district court here in New Mexico, and then served as Chief Assistant and Deputy Attorney General for the State of New Mexico from 1987 to 1989.

Since then, he has practiced law at the Rodey Law Firm in Albuquerque, where he has focused on commercial and real estate litigation, with particular expertise in land use and zoning. The people of New Mexico are fortunate that they will now enjoy his services on the Court of Appeals.

Once he takes office, Mr. Bohnhoff will be required to run in a partisan race in the 2018 general election.

Congratulations to Judge Bohnhoff!


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Gov. Martinez reappoints Stephen French to the NM Court of Appeals

I’m a little late to the party on this, as I haven’t been blogging for a while, but on December 22, Governor Martinez reappointed Judge Stephen French to the Court of Appeals to fill the seat vacated by Judge Michael Bustamante.

Judge French was originally appointed to the Court in early 2016, but was defeated by incoming Judge Julie Vargas in the November 2016 general election.

Congratulations to Judge French, and to a great new year for the Court!

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Have lunch with Judge Wechsler of the NM Court of Appeals

The State Bar’s Appellate Section will host a brown bag lunch with Judge James Wechsler of the Court of Appeals on Friday, December 2, at noon, at the State Bar Center in Albuquerque.

This event is part of a series of quarterly brown bag lunches with our state appellate judges sponsored by the Appellate Practice Section. This lunch will provide an excellent opportunity to ask any questions you might have about appellate practice in general or the Court of Appeals in particular.

Space is limited, so please RSVP to Tim Atler (e-mail: if you would like to attend.

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Tenth Circuit upholds lawyer’s conviction for tax evasion

Today the Tenth Circuit upheld a Kansas lawyer’s conviction for tax evasion, rejecting his arguments that insufficient evidence was presented to prove an “affirmative act” designed to conceal or mislead, and insufficient evidence to prove willfulness.

Here the defendant named someone else as the owner of his law firm in an effort to prevent the IRS from seizing his assets, had the firm pay his personal expenses directly rather than paying him a salary, and then lied by telling the government that he wasn’t receiving compensation from the law firm.

The Tenth Circuit had little trouble affirming the convictions. Judge Paul Kelly wrote the opinion in United States v. Boisseau.

The lesson here is: Don’t do this.

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Nakamura, Vargas prevail in New Mexico’s appellate judicial races

According to the Secretary of State’s website, Republican Justice Judith Nakamura has prevailed over Chief Judge Michael Vigil, the Democratic candidate, in the race for the New Mexico Supreme Court, by a vote of 391,841 to 361,553.

And in the Court of Appeals race, Democratic challenger Julie Vargas has prevailed over Republican incumbent Judge Stephen French by a note of 390,787 to 353,654.

Congratulations to Justice Nakamura and soon-to-be Judge Vargas!

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