Interview with Judge Miles Hanisee of the NM Court of Appeals (2014)

Judge Miles Hanisee
Judge Miles Hanisee

Earlier this week I spoke with Judge Miles Hanisee of the New Mexico Court of Appeals. He was appointed to the Court by Governor Martinez in 2011, and again after the 2012 election.

In addition, he is the Republican Party’s nominee for the New Mexico Court of Appeals that he presently holds. His campaign website is here.

I previously interviewed Judge Hanisee about his personal and professional background when he was running in the 2012 election, so I’ve tried to come up with some different questions this time:

Q.  I’m here at the New Mexico Court of Appeals with Judge Miles Hanisee to ask him a few questions about his race for the Court of Appeals. Thanks for talking with me today.

A.  Thanks for again coming in to interview me, and thanks for continuing to care for the appellate judiciary.

Q.  In this election, why should the voters of New Mexico choose you to remain at the Court of Appeals?

A.  Well, first of all I hope people know that I’m now in my fourth year as a judge on the Court of Appeals. I am as firmly enmeshed in the day-to-day activities of this Court as any of its members right now. I’ve participated in hundreds and hundreds of decisions. I’ve authored over 100 myself. About thirty to thirty-five of those were formal opinions that in some way modify or create precedent here in New Mexico.

You’re also aware that I’ve been endorsed by all three of the major newspapers in New Mexico – not easy in a state-wide race – the Las Cruces Sun-News, the Albuquerque Journal, and the Santa Fe New Mexican. The Taos News endorsed me yesterday, some smaller ones are coming along.

I think it is very noteworthy that the job I’ve done has warranted the editorial board endorsements. And I hope people pay attention to the service I’ve put in, not only here on the Court, but also state-wide. I’ve served on somewhere between seven and ten nominating commissions for district court judges. I’ve traveled the state speaking to bar organizations, bar groups, and worked very, very hard to interact with the community of New Mexico.

Q.  You have been critical of New Mexico’s method of appointing judges and then requiring them to stand in a partisan election. If you could redesign New Mexico’s judicial selection process from the ground up, what would it look like?

A.  Well, it would be anything that doesn’t affix labels to the names of judicial candidates for the job that is perhaps the most non-partisan of any public sector job there is. That’s the answer. I’d be happy with anything.

We start out getting it right. As you know, we start out with commissions filled with the best lawyers in the communities, judges from the court to which there’s to be a new judge, a justice from the Supreme Court, and a judge from the state Court of Appeals. Only those people qualified to serve are forwarded to whoever is the governor at the time.

We then turn around and make those selectees, new judges, into partisan politicians the next day. We’re the only state that does it that way. It’s very much a shame that we do. There are seven states left, and only seven, according to Judgepedia, that still partisanize upper judicial races. By “upper” I mean above the district court.

There is nothing about a non-partisan selection system, which I advocate for, elections that are non-partisan, or elections that are retention-only for appointees. Either one of those systems is fine. Those candidates can still get out in the community, just the same as if they had a label stuck on their names.

But this job is not about partisan affiliation. It is a place where partisan affiliation is banned from your work product, and rightfully so. And we should get into the progressive manner of picking judges for reasons of merit and merit alone. I’ve written about it, I’ve talked about it, and my opponent opposes it.

Q.  What are your most favorite and least favorite aspects of being an appellate judge?

A.  Well, I love the work of an appellate judge. It’s going to be hard for me to think of one that I don’t like in this job. There are a number of bad briefs we get, and reading those is probably not the best way to spend your day.

There are far more good things, though. Today we spent the day in Rio Rancho as part of our oral arguments in schools program, at Cleveland High School, hearing oral argument and interacting with students. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Obviously, the writing, you and I have talked about before. I love appellate writing. I think it’s the real heart of what the law is. It establishes things, not only for the litigants, but for practitioners, for district judges, for your entire state. So it’s just a tremendous thing to be blessed with to get to do.

I like the interaction in communities around the state. The Bench does, I think, a very good job. I’m one of the most energetic about getting around the state, because I like to do it. And those are the things I love about it, and I guess if bad briefs are the only bad thing I can think of, we’re doing okay.

Q.  You have now been on the Court of Appeals for about three years, and, like you said, you have had the opportunity to write a lot of opinions. Which opinion of yours do you find to be most memorable, and why?

A.  It’s probably hard to pick a single case and call it “memorable.” As you note, I’ve written a lot of them. One that stands out recently is Rainaldi v. City of Albuquerque, where I wrote that the employment compensation schedule that exists for the state as a whole also applies to the municipality that is the City of Albuquerque and its police department, meaning that we’re going to pay our police employees on the same schedule that the state has established for everyone else.

One of the threads I think that you’ll see in all my opinions is that people are to be treated equally and the same. We don’t have a set of rules for one group that doesn’t apply to other groups. And I think that is in many ways embedded in the equal protection notions that found our law. If there are rules that apply to someone, and there is debate over whether they should in one instance but not in another, I think that we need to be uniform. That case stands out to me as one that’s recent. I could name a bunch more if you want to hear others.

Q.  Now that you’ve been on the Court of Appeals for three years, in what ways do you think the Court of Appeals could improve?

A.  Everyone can always get better at what they do in a given profession. I want to become a better writer than I am. I want to have less words in a sentence if my sentence can be articulated in a more concise way.

But we as a Court are really a model for how courts should be run. One of the things I very much enjoyed in the Sun-News endorsement of me down in Las Cruces is that they noted “in our view the Court of Appeals works well.” And it endorsed not only me but our Court as a whole.

And it’s true. We have policies in place that are designed to monitor cases in front of us. One of the things you heard me talk about at the State Bar, that maybe I was not as articulate as I could have been on, is that a case becomes a “ready” case when briefing is complete. Okay, at that point, we want it assigned to a panel, and we want a decision within six months. That is actually sooner than the average of appellate courts in the country. We want that case assigned and ready.

I’m in my fourth year now. That list, when I first got here, of ready cases not yet assigned to a panel of three judges, stood somewhere just south of 200. Now, we are generally at between 30 and 60.

That means, every first of the month, when 30 cases get assigned, that case is now with a panel, an author has been assigned to it, and it is on the clock trying to get decided.

Now let me be clear about something. The case has to be properly decided and properly written. So if, after six months, there are disagreements on the panel, or if there are things that need further flushing out, we’re going to take that time, because the most important thing is to get it right.

But our court moves very efficiently. We meet once a month to go over our cases, go over our backlog. We’re required to have a 100% case turnout rate. There’s a better term for it than that, but it’s a legislative thing, and we do it very well. Our court is very well-constituted right now.

Q.  The last time we spoke, you mentioned that former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is one of your favorite judges. Can you tell us what other judge, state or federal, living or deceased, do you also admire, and why?

A.  Well, she is the only U.S. Supreme Court justice whose back yard had a view of New Mexico. We’ve never had a Supreme Court justice from New Mexico. I sure hope that happens.

I’m going to exclude from your list my own colleagues, and current members of the New Mexico Supreme Court, who I think so well of, and work so well with, that it would be too hard to pick. And last time we spoke I talked about Oliver Seth, former 10th Circuit chief judge, and longtime 10th Circuit judge here in Albuquerque.

Judge Lynn Pickard from our Court of Appeals – she’s retired now – did a terrific job on this Court. I occupy the office in Santa Fe that she used to be in. And it’s interesting to me, when you talk about admiring a judge, when I research a legal issue on this Court, it turns out she’s written about it. Her name pops up all over our jurisprudence. She was renowned for her work ethic. She was a very effective Chief Judge. And she stands out as someone that in the course of my job right now, I’ve just seen opinion after opinion that is well-reasoned and helpful.

Appellate opinions should be helpful to the reader. They should provide instruction on what the law is and how it should be interpreted. It can’t just be as short as possible. Appellate opinions sometimes need to speak to audiences that practice law. Hers found that balance, I think, really nicely.

Q.  I hear that you listen to lots of audiobooks as you drive around New Mexico on your campaign. Which are your favorites?

A.  Well, right now, I’m halfway through Tom Wolfe’s latest, Back to Blood. Tom Wolfe is specially able to go to a city and learn all about its nuances, many of them its undercurrent nuances, and put them into a fictional story. So I’m enjoying that book.

Listening to audiobooks is not quite like sitting down and reading Moby-Dick. You want to be entertained. I love Gillian Flynn’s book, Gone Girl, it was really well-recorded. I’ve listened to Dark Places, her next one. And to keep your attention on the road, where it should be, you kind of like some escapist fiction. And I’m not above that.

Q.  Judge Hanisee, thank you for your time today. I appreciate it.

A.  Thank you for coming back, and thank you for your blog.

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