A local judge will remain on the bench but in a different capacity and with different court.
Rio Communities Judge Heather Benavidez will soon put down her gavel in the newest incorporated municipality and pick up another one — at magistrate court in Los Lunas.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called Benavidez on March 14 saying she was honored to appoint her to the bench, a position which had been held by Tina Garcia before she retired in December.
“She said she chose me because of my knowledge, experience, civic engagement, and that I interviewed beautifully,” Benavidez said of the call. “She then went on to remind me to adhere to the guidelines from the Supreme Court regarding the prevention of the spread of the virus.”
Benavidez, who was elated at the news of her appointment, said while she was surprised by the news amid the governor’s priorities regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, she is honored to serve.
“I realize it was probably very low on her list of things to be done,” Benavidez said. “I will be a fair, impartial, and a knowledgable judge, and I will strive to serve the residents of Valencia County to best of my ability every day by following the law.”
Benavidez, who is a candidate for the magistrate position, will take the bench soon after the Administrative Office of the Courts receives several documents, including certification of training.
Benavidez has served as Rio Communities Municipal Judge for the past seven years, and she said she will resign her position soon, saying she doesn’t believe it is ethical to continue to serve both positions.
Prior to taking the bench in Rio Communities, Benavidez began her career 14 years ago with the 13th Judicial District Court as a clerk, then was promoted to trial court administrative assistant for retired judge William “Bill” Sanchez. She was promoted once again to program manager for the Foreclosure Settlement Facilitation Project.
For the past three years, she has been working at the New Mexico Treasurer’s Office as manager for the ABLE New Mexico Program.
Benavidez is a graduate of Belen High School; received her bachelor’s degree in political science and master’s degree in public administration from The University of New Mexico.
She has already given her notice to the treasurer’s office, and her last, official day will be on Friday, April 3.
“I am excited to work with Judge John “Buddy” Sanchez and Judge John Chavez, as well as the district court judges,” Benavidez said. “They’ve all been very helpful during my transition period. The retirement of Judge Garcia leaves a void on the bench and I aspire to fill her shoes by being prepared every day, for every case, that comes before me.”
Benavidez is running against Andrew Barreras, a former state representative, owner of Casa de Pizza in Los Lunas and a real estate broker, for the Democratic nomination for the position in the June primary election.
The winner of that race will face Republican Miles Tafoya, a surveillance officer for the Valencia County DWI Drug Court and co-owner of Stone Lizard Hops Farm, in the general election in November.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.