Interview with Chief Judge Michael Vigil, Democratic candidate for the NM Supreme Court

CJ VigilI recently met with Chief Judge Michael Vigil of the New Mexico Court of Appeals. He is the Democratic candidate for the New Mexico Supreme Court in next month’s general election. You can find his campaign website here.

Q.  I’m here this afternoon with Chief Judge Michael Vigil of the Court of Appeals. Thank you for your time today.

A.  It’s my pleasure to be here with you.

Q.  Tell us about your family and background before going to law school.

A.  My mother and my natural father divorced when I was very young. And that family, I’ve gotten to know them very well in recent years – the Vigiles of Española. They go back deep into the history of New Mexico. My grandfather and grandmother helped build the church up there in Española, the Sacred Heart Church. There’s actually a street named for them by the church. Their farm is where the community college is now located.

And I’ve found out that there is a relationship – it’s not real close – with Donaciano Vigil, the first governor of the Territory of New Mexico. So it’s a large family. I think there’s a chance I might even be related to Father Martinez of Taos fame, who brought the first printing press to New Mexico, and had some big fights with Archbishop Lamy. He was originally from Abiquiu, and had a large family there, and after his wife died, he went on to become a priest. And my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side was a Martinez from Abiquiu.

Basically I was raised in the Air Force, and we traveled all over the world, and I went to four high schools before graduating finally from Santa Fe High School. Then I went on to the College of Santa Fe, where I got my B.A., and from there I went on to law school.

My mother and father really didn’t have money to send me to school, so I was going to join the Air Force Academy, and received an appointment, but at the last minute they sent me a postcard saying that I didn’t have enough background in math and science to succeed, so I was turned down.

So here I was in May, and I wrote to UNM, and they said they’ll accept me, but I didn’t have any money. My plan then was to join the Army, and in 1969 the Vietnam War was still going pretty strong. So my plan was to join the Army, and hopefully live, and then get the GI Bill.

I took my mother to lunch to tell her about my plan, and she said “What’s wrong with the College of Santa Fe? You can live at home. We’ll help you as much as we can.” I checked with the school, and they looked at my SAT or ACT score, and they asked if I’d looked at the dean’s scholarship, which would pay half the tuition. So I went and applied, and Brother Luke was the president at the time, and I got a dean’s or presidential scholarship. And that’s how I ended up at the College of Santa Fe.

Q.  Why did you decide to attend law school, and where did you go?

A.  Like many lawyers, I decided to attend law school because I didn’t know what to do! I had a B.A. from the College of Santa Fe, where I’d studied political science and history, and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I asked people for advice, and a lot of them recommended law school, because they teach you to think in a certain way. So I applied to eight law schools, and four accepted me. And one of the four that accepted me was Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C., so I decided to borrow money to go to school there.

That was the summer of Watergate, in 1973, and I got a job out there in Washington, and part of my education was learning about Watergate, and all the people that were involved. Senator Montoya of New Mexico was on the Watergate Committee, so I got to see all the hearings. During my first year of law school, I went to see the Watergate tapes case argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. I was the third person in line to see that. I had to spend the night out on the steps! It was an experience that you remember for the rest of your life.

A lot of players in the Watergate case had connections to Georgetown. It was super being in the capital. I got to watch U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments all the time, and other courts.

Q.  Describe your career between leaving law school and joining the Court of Appeals.

A.  I graduated from law school in 1976, the bicentennial. I applied to some law firms, and received some offers from big giant megafirms. And I was really not that interested in going to work for one of the multinational law firms.

I also applied to the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, and was lucky enough to be selected for the job. The acceptance letter said the position was subject to funding. So I graduated, got my degree, and came back to New Mexico to take the bar exam. During the course of the summer, I tried to make contact with the people at DOJ, and could never reach anybody or get any answers about what was going on.

In the meantime, I had family and friends who were encouraging me to stay in New Mexico. I heard about a job at the New Mexico Court of Appeals. And I went to the clerk’s office at the Court of Appeals. I was driving a motorcycle in those days, and was wearing jeans and a t-shirt and a helmet. I inquired about whether the job was still open, the lady at the counter said “Yes, it is.” And she directed me to the basement.

I went down to the basement, and met Winston Roberts-Hohl, who was the original director of the Prehearing Division. He interviewed me then and there, and we hit it off immediately. He called me the following week and said I had the job if I wanted it. So I said, “You’ve got yourself a lawyer.” I started the following Monday, and went to work as one of the two original attorneys in the Prehearing Division at the New Mexico Court of Appeals. I stayed there almost three years.

I left there and came to Albuquerque, and worked with Ernesto Romero, who later became a district court judge. Then I was on my own for a while, and then met Billy Marchiondo, and ended up in his law firm, where I stayed for over twenty years, until I went to the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Continue reading

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Interview with Justice Judith Nakamura, Republican candidate for the New Mexico Supreme Court

Justice Judith Nakamura
Justice Judith Nakamura

I recently met with Justice Judith Nakamura, who was appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2015 by Governor Martinez. She is running to keep her seat as the Republican candidate in this year’s general election. Her campaign website is here.

Q.  Good afternoon, I’m here with Justice Judith Nakamura of the New Mexico Supreme Court. Thank you for talking with me today.

A.  Thank you for meeting with me. Good afternoon.

Q.  Tell us about your family, and your background before going to law school.

A.  My family moved to New Mexico when I was twelve years old. My mom had just remarried, and she and my dad came to New Mexico to look for land where they would retire when the kids were out of school. Well, on the completion of that one trip to New Mexico, they returned to New York and said “Guess what? At the end of this school year, we’re moving to New Mexico.”

Imagine the shock for a twelve-year-old girl! So we moved to Rio Rancho, and I grew up in Sandoval County and Bernalillo County, attending middle school in the North Valley, and eventually Cibola High School.

And I’m single and the mother of three adorable but loud rescue dogs.

Q.   And where did you go to college?

A.  I went to the University of New Mexico for both my undergraduate and law school degrees.

Q.   Why did you decide to go to law school?

A.  Well, I never envisioned being a lawyer, much less a judge. I was involved in political campaigns. And I happened to meet a gentleman who was in the Reagan administration, and he said “What do you do for a living?” And I proudly said, “I work on campaigns.” And he looked me straight in the eye and said, “That’s not a career. You should consider something like law school.”

And he convinced me in short order that it is a degree that not only teaches you analytical skills, but more importantly, even if I had no interest in ever practicing law, it was a good degree to have. I could use it in many arenas. So I started speaking to people in the business community, and my friends and family, and I decided  that it’s just a great degree to have in terms of teaching you discipline and analytical skills. I wanted to stay in New Mexico so I applied to and went to the University of New Mexico Law School. Continue reading

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Albuquerque Journal endorses Nakamura, French for NM appellate judgeships

The Albuquerque Journal has endorsed Justice Judith Nakamura for the New Mexico Supreme Court, and Judge Stephen French for the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

Both Nakamura and French are the Republican candidates for those positions.

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Santa Fe New Mexican endorses Vigil, French for NM appellate courts

The Santa Fe New Mexican has endorsed Chief Judge Michael Vigil, the Democratic candidate for the New Mexico Supreme Court, and Judge Stephen French, the Republican candidate for the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

The editorial, however, also has very nice things to say about their respective opponents, Justice Judith Nakamura, and Albuquerque lawyer Julie Vargas.

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Interview with Judge Stephen French, Republican candidate for the NM Court of Appeals

Judge Stephen French
Judge Stephen French

I recently spoke with Judge Stephen French, who was appointed by Governor Susana Martinez to the Court of Appeals earlier this year, and who is running as a Republican in the general election next month. His campaign website is here.

Q.  I’m here today with Judge Stephen French of the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Good morning, and thanks for talking with me today.

A. Good morning!

Q.  Tell us about your family, and your background before going to law school.

A.  Well, my family has been in Albuquerque since 1888 on my mother’s side. I’m part of the Giomi clan. My great-grandfather, Girolomo Giomi, came to Albuquerque in 1888. My grandfather, Guido Giomi, who I’m named after, was born in Albuquerque in 1896. So, I have deep roots here in New Mexico.

My wife and I met in law school. She is a practicing attorney. We have two lovely daughters. My oldest daughter, Lauren, will be 30 on October 7. My younger daughter will be 28 on September 23. My older daughter is in the Navy, and on September 14, just a few weeks ago, I became a proud grandfather of my granddaughter, Penelope. My second daughter, Kendall, has an engineering degree, and a master’s of engineering degree, from Purdue University, and she is building things in Oakland, California.

Q.  Why did you decide to attend law school, and where did you go?

A.  I decided to attend law school in ninth grade, and again when I was a senior in high school, when I got involved in Youth in Government programs. I applied to California Western in San Diego in 1977, and I sure am glad I did, because that’s where I met my wife, Kathy.

Q.  Tell us about your legal career up to this point, especially your appellate experience.

A.  Well, my legal career started off in 1980 as a prosecutor in the Metropolitan Court here in Albuquerque for the Second Judicial District. I went from Metro Court to property and narcotics, and prosecuted some violent crime cases.

After that, I signed up to be on the Criminal Justice Act panel, doing federal public defender work, where I requested assignment of violent crime cases involving Native Americans charged under the Assimilated Crimes Act in United States District Court. I tried many of those cases.

In 1982, I became law partners with Jerry Walz, and we did plaintiffs’ civil litigation, criminal defense, family law, and plaintiffs’ civil rights litigation.

In 1986, after reading about the terrible kidnapping and murder of Linda Lee Daniels, I called Jackie Robins, who was the state public defender at the time, and volunteered to defend Wallace Randolph Pierce. It was a death penalty case and I successfully saved his life.

So about that time, up until about 1990, I was doing criminal defense work and plaintiffs’ civil rights work. In about 1986, I started defending civil rights cases. So, I have had an interesting, full-blown practice.

In 1990, I became first head of the Legal Bureau for Risk Management for the State of New Mexico. Then I want back into private practice in 1993 and built French and Associates.  I pretty much exclusively defended civil rights cases until I wound down my Firm in 2015. At that point, I started conducting mediations exclusively, although I had done mediation for the last 17 years.

So that’s kind of a general overview of my background. Now, I checked the court docket, and I’ve done over 84 appeals to the Tenth Circuit, mostly as the appellee. I then went and counted my cases in state court, and I believe I had about 30 appeals to the Court of Appeals and to the New Mexico Supreme Court. A couple of them were really precedent-setting cases. Continue reading

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Interview with Julie Vargas, Democratic candidate for the New Mexico Court of Appeals

Julie Vargas, Democratic candidate for the NM Court of Appeals
Julie Vargas, Democratic candidate for the NM Court of Appeals

I recently spoke with Julie Vargas, an Albuquerque lawyer in private practice who is now the Democratic candidate for the New Mexico Court of Appeals:

Q.  Good afternoon, I’m here with Julie Vargas, candidate for the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Thank you for talking with me today.

A.  Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Q.  Tell us about your family and background before going to law school.

A.  I was born and raised here in Albuquerque. I grew up in Old Town, and I still live around 100 feet from where I grew up. In fact, my whole family lives in the neighborhood. I have aunts and cousins who all live in the immediate area. And so I went to elementary school at San Felipe in Old Town. It really was my childhood stomping grounds. I went for a couple of years to St. Pius High School, and then transferred to Albuquerque High and graduated from there.

I had to be a little bit rebellious and run away from home after that, so I went away to college, and moved to Rhode Island. So I went to college at Brown University in Rhode Island, and then couldn’t wait to get back to New Mexico. You just can’t beat the sunshine and the really friendly people here, so I was really anxious to come back. So I came back at that point.

Q.  What did you major in?

A.  I double-majored in history and English literature, but in the same period – pre-modern history and English literature.

Q.  Why did you decide to attend law school, and where did you go?

A.  You know, I knew since I was a little kid that I wanted to be a lawyer. My dad was a lawyer, and I knew what he did. I saw the way it affected people’s day to day lives, and how they were impacted, and how he was able to help them during some of the most difficult periods of their lives. Just seeing the relief they experienced after their case was resolved really made an impact on me as a small kid. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do, to be able to help people in that way. And so I finished college, and I wanted to come home, so I went to law school at UNM. Continue reading

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Register for the NM Appellate Bench & Bar Conference on October 28

On Friday, October 28, the New Mexico Bench and Bar Conference will take place at the Supreme Court in Santa Fe.

If you want to learn more about appellate practice in New Mexico, or ask questions of our appellate judges, you won’t want to miss this. You’ll get CLE credit for attending, and the cost is only $99. Registration is limited to the first 65 people, so make sure and register here.

Sessions will include:

  • Remarks to the Bar by Chief Justice Charles Daniels and Chief Judge Michael Vigil.
  • “Advocacy: What works and what doesn’t in briefs and oral argument” with Justice Edward Chavez, Judge Michael Bustamante, and Judge Miles Hanisee, and the moderator, Santa Fe appellate lawyer Jane Yohalem.
  • “Navigating the Court of Appeals’ docketing and calendaring process” with Judge Bustamante, Mark Reynolds (Clerk of the Court of Appeals), and Paul Fyfe (Chief Staff Attorney, Court of Appeals). The moderator will beAlbuquerque appellate lawyer Jocelyn Drennan.
  • “Criminal appeals” with Chief Justice Daniels, Judge Jonathan Sutin, Anne Kelly (New Mexico Attorney General’s Office), and David Henderson (New Mexico Public Defender’s Office).
  • “Keys to obtaining (or resisting) discretionary review” with Chief Justice Daniels, Justice Barbara Vigil, Chief Judge Michael Vigil, and Paul Fyfe. This discussion will be moderated by Albuquerque appellate lawyer Kerry Kiernan.

I hope to see you there!

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Links to U.S. Supreme Court previews for OT 2016

As an appellate lawyer, this is my favorite week of the year, since it marks the beginning of the new term for the Supreme Court of the United States. Christmas in October is here!

To help you get in the swing of things, here are some links to articles and podcasts previewing the new term:

1.  The new kid on the block is the First Mondays podcast by Harvard law prof Ian Samuel and Washington University law prof Dan Epps. I listened to the first episode, and so should you.

2. The American Constitution Society’s Supreme Court preview is here.

3. The Federalist Society’s Supreme Court preview is here.

4. Prof. Erwin Chemerinsky has an article in the ABA Journal: “What to look for in the new Supreme Court term.”

5. Adam Liptak of the New York Times has this article: “Supreme Court Faces Volatile, Even if Not Blockbuster, Docket.”

6. David Savage of the Los Angeles Times has this article: “Divided Supreme Court opens new term that could bring historic shift.”

7. Law professor Noah Feldman also weighs in with “Supreme Court Aims for a Boring Term.”

8. Lydia Wheeler of The Hill has this piece entitled “Top Five Supreme Court Cases to Watch.”

9. The National Constitution Center has this podcast, “What to expect at the Supreme Court this year.”

If there are any others you think should be added to this list, please shoot me an e-mail.

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Former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Dan Sosa, Jr. dies at 92

According to this report by Steve Ramirez in the Las Cruces Sun-News, one of the giants of the New Mexico legal community, former Justice Dan Sosa, Jr., passed away on Saturday in Las Cruces.

Justice Sosa was born in humble circumstances in Las Cruces, and I remember him describing how, as a boy, he used to shine the shoes of lawyers on the courthouse steps. He flew combat missions during World War II, and after attending law school, became a successful lawyer and prosecutor. In the 1960s, he helped to found the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

He capped this brilliant career by serving on the New Mexico Supreme Court from 1975 to 1991.

You can learn more about him by watching this interview, conducted as part of the State Bar’s Oral History Project. I believe a biography is also in the works, which I look forward to reading.

My condolences to Justice Sosa’s family and friends. Recquiescat in pace.

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NM Supreme Court: Whistleblowers can’t sue state officials in their personal capacities

Former New Mexico Secretary of State Mary Herrera allegedly fired two employees of her office in 2010 for speaking with the FBI, which was investigating her conduct. The employees sued Herrera under the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act. Last year, the Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs could sue Herrera in her personal capacity. I wrote about that decision here.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court reversed. See Flores v. Herrera.

Justice Nakamura’s opinion explains that although the statute makes “public employers” liable, and the statute’s definition of that term includes “every office or officer” of a governmental entity, the Whistleblower Protection Act does not allow lawsuits against an officer in his or her individual capacity.

First, she said, the Act does not explicitly make government officials liable in their individual capacities, and the Act’s language including “officer” within the term “public employer” does not do so because “[t]hose persons who occupy the offices of state government clearly do not act in their individual capacities when they take actions affecting the employment of public employees.”

Second, some of the statute’s remedies — such as injunctive relief reinstating an employee — could only apply to a state agency, not to an individual, like Herrera, who has left office.

Third, it is unnecessary to impose individual liability to fulfill the Act’s remedial purposes.

Finally, allowing recovery against a government official’s personal assets would discourage people from entering government service.Today’s Albuquerque Journal also has this story about the decision.

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