Magistrate John Chavez

Many here in Valencia County still remember my grandfather John S. Aragon. During his educational career, he held several positions in the Belen Consolidated Schools to include superintendent.

What you may not know is that he dropped out of high school when his father passed away as he had to go to work to support his mother and siblings. He returned to school on the GI Bill after his service in Europe during World War II and began his career in education.

His three daughters all followed in his footsteps and pursued degrees in education. I believe he would be proud to see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue the legacy as teachers.

For my part, he encouraged life-long learning and gave me this piece of advice, “You can lose your possessions, you can lose your money, you can even lose your freedom — but no one can take away your knowledge!”

That challenge never left me and I continue to pursue learning opportunities to this day.

Many professions have a requirement for continuing education and the judiciary is no exception. In fact, participation in continuing education is mandatory for judges on an annual basis.

The chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court must approve a judge’s request to miss required training — so it is a big deal!

In New Mexico, the University of New Mexico administers judicial education through a unique relationship with our Supreme Court. Within the Law School exists an organization called the Judicial Education Center or JEC. The hard-working staff of the JEC plan and execute all the judicial training for probate, municipal, magistrate, metropolitan, district, appellate court judges, and associated staff personnel.

The JEC has an oversight committee made up of Supreme Court appointed members who include the dean of the UNM School of Law, a Supreme Court Justice, the UNM provost, a state legislator, a number of educational specialists, judges from the various levels of state courts in New Mexico and a Tribal Court Judge. Since January 2020, I am proud to serve as the magistrate member of this committee.

One of the projects the committee set out to accomplish was to establish core competencies for judicial officers. It was important that we had more than just a list of areas of interest, but rather we wanted to have articulable areas that guide the planning and execution of judicial training.

Leveraging multiple studies from both national and international sources, as well as earlier work done in New Mexico, we categorized training requirements for judges in the following roles: Citizens of the Community, Informed and Impartial Decision Maker, and Leader of the Court Process.

In terms of actual course development, these core competencies may translate differently for a magistrate judge vs. an appellate court judge in both scope and scale. Ultimately, we want to ensure that each judge receives the necessary continuing education for his or her particular court.

As an example, all judges receive ethics instruction on an annual basis. In the case of magistrate judges, we receive instruction on an annual basis, on court procedures and the law for both driving under the influence and domestic violence cases.

Other topics might include contemporary issues, new statutes, and emerging case law; all nested under the various core competencies. This past week we had our magistrate annual training. The instruction included sessions on drugged driving, sentencing practices and jury selection to name only a few.

Beyond this mandatory training, judges have the opportunity to attend lunchtime short courses on a variety of topics. In the past several months, we have had classes on eviction cases and received legal updates following the January legislative session.

Judges also have the opportunity to attend courses with the National Judicial College. I have attended several of these courses over the years to include Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure, Decision Making and Judicial Leadership. All these courses serve to help round out judicial education, leveraging both foundational education and personal experience on the bench.

In last month’s column, Judge Miles Tafoya wrote about implicit bias after his attendance at a judicial training course on that subject.

Beyond formal education opportunities, judges receive N.M. Supreme Court decisions upon publication so that we can stay up to date with current case law. New Mexico judges also receive a daily email with links to judicial related news from around the state and across the nation. There really is no shortage of educational opportunities for a New Mexico judge.

So, while kids are returning to classrooms across the states and universities and trade schools are back in full swing, know that the judges are getting their education, too. We are all recipients of knowledge — knowledge that is ours to keep!

(Judge John R. Chavez is the magistrate  in Belen. He is a native of Valencia County and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.)

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Judge John Chavez, guest columnist

Magistrate Judge John R. Chavez is the magistrate in Belen. He is a native of Valencia County and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.