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.

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

A.  I’ve been practicing for 23 years. This year will be my 23rd year in November. And just like I live right near where I grew up, I’ve practiced with the same firm pretty much the whole time that I’ve been practicing. I did a short stint at one other firm right when I got out of law school, and then I came straight here to Hunt & Davis, where I’ve been doing real estate, and commercial and business litigation for the last 22 years.

Q.  Why have you decided to run for a seat on the New Mexico Court of Appeals, and why should the voters choose you?

A.  Well, you know, the Court of Appeals is the mid-level court, but it is the court that usually has the last word in cases. The Court of Appeals takes all cases that are appealed from the district courts, with just a few exceptions and is required to hear them all, unlike the Supreme Court, which gets to choose a little bit more what cases they want to hear and don’t hear. And with my history and English literature degree, my specialty, or the thing that I enjoy the most about practicing law is the research and writing component that we all have to do, or most of us have to do. And in the Court of Appeals, that’s a very important part of the activities of that court. And so it’s a place where I think I fit the best. I also like the fact that they work in panels, so there’s a more collaborative atmosphere, rather than being a district court judge, where you’re up there all by yourself making  decisions. So the Court of Appeals, I really think it’s the right place for me, and I think it’s just the court where my skills can be best used.

And with regard to why the voters should vote for me, I’ve been practicing for 23 years. I have a wide variety of experience. I have experience that I think is unique to the current makeup of the court, and so I hope that I can add something to that court. There aren’t really too many people on the court who have business and real estate litigation experience, so I’m hoping that I can join the Court and add that skill set to what they’re working with now. They’re all very accomplished, but I just have a different perspective to offer.

Q.  How would you describe your judicial philosophy?

Well, on the Court of Appeals, I don’t know how much judicial philosophy comes into play, because the job is to apply the law that the Supreme Court has developed over the years. So the idea is that you’re going to apply the law as it exists to the facts that come to you. So I guess that would be my judicial philosophy.

Q.  Is there anything about the New Mexico Court of Appeals that you think could be improved?

A.  You know, I think it would be presumptuous of me to say there are things that I need to go in there and fix. I think the things that do need to be fixed are things that the current Court already knows about. Obviously, we all know that they don’t have the technology that some of the other courts have. They are not yet on Odyssey and you can’t electronically file. You’re working with paper copies of everything at this point, which makes it difficult to share transcripts, to share other information or the record proper. So obviously it would be great if they were able to update those systems, but I think right now the budget is a little bit tight and doesn’t allow for that. Hopefully in the future they’ll be able to take care of that.

Q.  Is there anything you would change about New Mexico’s process for selecting appellate judges?

There is a lot of criticism of the process that we currently have, and there are pros and cons to the process we currently have. I think if I were starting from scratch, and someone asked me to set up a system, I would probably set up a system that basically stopped at the judicial selection commission, where you have a diverse group of people who are experienced, and who are familiar with the judicial system, to choose the judges on the Court of Appeals, or any of the courts here in New Mexico.

But that being said, since we have the system that we have, the system provides a unique opportunity that most judges don’t have. Most judges in other places don’t have the opportunity to go out and meet the people who are going to be appearing before them every day. Those judges don’t have the opportunity to hear the perspective and concerns of the public, except when  litigants are standing in front of them in court arguing about specific issues. I think that there’s a real opportunity and benefit to actually going out there and talking to people, and meeting them, and hearing what they think about the Court, and how they think the Court should work, and their frustrations with the courts, and the things that they like about the courts. The election process actually does give you a bit of insight and a little bit of grounding that you otherwise wouldn’t have.

Q.  What appellate judge, living or dead, do you most admire, and why?

A.  That’s a hard one, because there have been so many amazing jurists over the last 240 years of our country. But I think I would have to say Thurgood Marshall was just amazing. The things that he did, the things that he said, the way that he said them, in such tumultuous time, he got his point across without insulting people, without offending people. He tackled really important issues that changed our country. And so I think he was just an amazing person and we’ll never be able to replace him.

Q.  That’s for sure. What book, or books, have had the most influence on you?

A.  That’s a really hard one. I was an English major, so there were lots of books! Most of the things that I read were pre-Industrial Revolution stuff, which makes me sound like a big geek, but I loved it. I love words. My favorite book from college was Paradise Lost, which most people would never—everybody hated that when they read it. But I just loved the language, and it made a big impression on me, and I still think about it.

Q.  What do you do for fun in your free time, if you have any free time?

A.  Right now I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I do have free time I like to hike. I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon a couple of times in the last few years, which was amazing. I like to travel. I went to Iceland not too long ago, which was incredible. Other than that, I spend time with my family. I have a lot of family here in New Mexico, so I try to get around and see them as much as I can. It’s been a little bit difficult lately. Nothing too exciting or adventurous!

Q.  Red or green, and where is your favorite place to eat it?

A.  I love both, but if it’s red, it has to be my mom’s. That’s pretty much the only place I’ll eat red, because nobody can compare. If I go out to eat I get green, and my favorite place for green is Garcia’s.

Q.  Good choice. Ms. Vargas, thanks for your time today.

A.  Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

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