Interview with Justice Paul Kennedy, Republican nominee for the NM Supreme Court

Justice Paul Kennedy (photo used with permission)

Prominent Albuquerque attorney Paul Kennedy served on the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2002, and was appointed to serve on the Court again by Governor Susana Martinez earlier this year.  He is running as the Republican nominee to keep his seat in next week’s general election (you can find his campaign website here).  I talked with him yesterday in Santa Fe:

Q.      I’m here with Justice Paul Kennedy to talk to him about his campaign for the New Mexico Supreme Court.  Thank you for talking with me today, Justice Kennedy.

A.      Thanks for coming over, it’s a pleasure having you.

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

A.      Before I went to law school I grew up, basically, in the Philadelphia area.  I am the oldest of thirteen children, eleven boys and two girls.  No twins in that mix.  I went to college, and after I got out of college I enlisted in the Marine Corps, served a hitch in the Marine Corps, and after that I went to law school on the GI Bill.

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

A.      I think it was, probably this is a true for a lot of lawyers, it was just a lifelong ambition.  I think I got interested as a kid, and always saw that as a genuine prospect for myself.  So it was a fairly easy decision, fairly easy transition.  I ended up attending law school at Georgetown.

Q.      Tell us about your experience as a lawyer, and specifically any experience you’ve had in litigating before the appellate courts, but also any other experience you would like to mention.

A.      I started off my career as a state public defender in Albuquerque, and then went over for a short period of time to the federal public defender.  But I quickly entered private practice, so essentially for the last 36 years, except for my time on the Court, I was in private practice doing both criminal and civil work.

For a long time all I did was criminal work, and it was both trial work and appellate work.  And then at some point I started to transition over and started doing a lot of civil work, especially Section 1983 work, but always with a very heavy emphasis on appellate work.  Essentially I was appealing my own cases or defending my own cases on appeal.  Sometimes I’d be hired separately and do a separate appeal, but mostly it was my own cases.

I estimate that I’ve probably done 75 to 100 appeals in my career, either in this Court, or the state Court of Appeals, or the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  And of course over 100 jury trials, anything from DWI to first-degree murder, to death penalty murder, and a lot of civil cases, and again, a lot of my civil trials have been Section 1983 cases.  But it’s easy enough to find them in this day and age.  All you do is get on Westlaw and you can pull them all up, and most of them are there.  All of the reported ones, anyway, and a lot of the unreported ones too.

Q.      Why did you decide to seek a seat on the New Mexico Supreme Court, and why should voters choose you?

A.      Well, this is not my first time on the Supreme Court, as you know.  Ten years ago Governor Gary Johnson appointed me to the Court, and I served out Justice Baca’s term when he retired early.

And then when the opportunity came around this time, I decided it was the point in my career and point in my life where it made sense to go back on the Court and try to stay on the Court, if the voters so desire.

I do find the work very interesting; I find it rewarding.  It is a different perspective that you get when you sit on the Court as opposed to being a practitioner, obviously.  I just find the whole thing fascinating; it’s a fascinating process.  And it’s very rewarding intellectually, as well as rewarding from a service point of view.

Q.      What, if anything, do you think could be improved about the New Mexico Supreme Court?

A.      Well, I think most lawyers, most practitioners, would be surprised by how well this Court does run, and how efficiently, and how hard-working a Court it is.  I’ve been very impressed by that in both of my terms on the Court.

I think, when you say how could it be improved, it always goes back to resources.  And we’re a poor state, and we’re in tough economic times, and the court system, including the Supreme Court, suffers as a result of that.  So, if you give me a billion dollars, I could probably solve most of the problems in the court system in New Mexico, including on the Supreme Court, but I don’t think you’re going to give me a billion dollars, and I don’t think anyone else is either.

And so we just have to struggle along and hope we come out of this trough, and eventually be able to put some more resources into the court system.

Q.      Please describe your philosophy as an appellate judge.

A.      Well, I think I look at it from two perspectives.  First, adherence to the rule of law, meaning that when I look at a case or look at a factual situation, I apply the Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution.  I check on jurisdiction.  I try to apply the case law and the statutes to the fact situation, and not be too concerned about the end result.

And I feel if I can do that, if I can adhere to the rule of law, and not rewrite the statute, and not preempt the Legislature, I think in the end the result will be just result.

I really do not believe that courts should be in the business of creating law.  We may mold it, we may shape it, we may interpret it, but we should not be creating law.  That’s for the Legislature to do.  And it’s our job to see that the intent and the specific directive of the Legislature is carried out.  So that’s the first thing I try to do, is adhere to the rule of law.

My second preoccupation is the preservation of individual rights and liberties.  I consider the rights and liberties contained in the Bill of Rights, and the analogous portions of the New Mexico Constitution, to be of paramount importance, and essential to our lives, and essential to our relationship with the government as citizens.  And so I have a very strong belief that an appellate justice should be vigorous in his or her defense of individual rights and liberties.

Q.      And what present or past justice on the U.S. Supreme Court do you most admire, and why?

A.      Wow, that’s quite a question.  You know, if I had to pick someone out of history I’d probably pick John Marshall, for obvious reasons.  He’s a justice who led a remarkable life and really laid down for posterity, essentially, our system of judicial review and the way our courts function as the third branch of government.  So you’d have to stay that he’s of the utmost historical importance.

If I had to pick someone from the present Court, I’d probably pick John Roberts.  I enjoy very much reading his work, and I admire what I believe is his concern about the Court as an institution and as a separate branch of government whose interests must be preserved.  I think he’s proven himself already to be very skillful and very conscientious about how he leads the Court.  And so I enjoy very much not only reading his work, but seeing how he maneuvers, and how he acts.

Q.      What book, or books, have had the greatest influence on you?

A.      That is a tough question.  It’s hard to isolate any particular book or books.  I certainly would say that a book I’ve always enjoyed and go back to is Dante’s Inferno, which I think speaks to some of the ultimate questions and ultimate issues.  And it is written in a very entertaining and enjoyable way, and yet it’s a very serious work of art, there’s no doubt about that.

I have always very much enjoyed the Odyssey and the Iliad, which in a different way, also speak to some of those same questions.  It’s difficult to look back over a lifetime of reading and just come up with a representative number, but there’s a couple of examples for you anyway.

Q.      What do you do for enjoyment or relaxation in your spare time, if you have any spare time?

A.      Well, I’m a faithful and avid cross-fitter, which is an exercise program which emphasizes high-intensity and very functional types of exercise, including cardio and weight lifting.  And so I try to get to cross-fit four or five times a week.  And once this campaign is over, I’ll no doubt be back to doing it four or five times per week.  So that’s my main avocation outside the law.

Other than that, just reading.  I read a lot of biographies and histories, mostly, and a little bit of fiction too.  So I would say those two areas, cross-fitting and reading, are what I do in my off-time.

Q.      Red or green?  And whichever you choose, where do you like to eat it?

A.      I’m a green guy.  I’m partial to Duran’s, in Old Town Albuquerque, so that, I think, is one of the better places in town.

Q.      Thank you for your time today.  I appreciate it.

A.      You’re welcome.  I appreciate you coming up here.


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