After 34 years of sitting on the bench, Los Lunas Municipal Court Judge Richard Luna has decided to hang up his black robe and retire.
He decided to not seek another term in office for the same reason everyone else makes the decision to retire.
“It just got to the point where I have to move on and step down and let some other person take over,” Luna said. “I could have probably ran again, but my wife, Mary Lou, and I talked about it, and we decided it was time.”
Luna was first elected in 1968 when the municipal judge worked on a part-time basis. Court was held one day a week, and Luna used the opportunity to have a second job as a traveling concrete salesman.
He remembers the first time he found some one guilty of a crime, he fined him $5. “Boy, have times changed,” he said.
During the next 22 years of his career, Luna won 11 elections.
“At that time, we ran every two years,” Luna said. “It wasn’t until 12 years ago that we ran every four years and had court on a full time basis.”
Luna explained Los Lunas needed a full-time judge because of the increased case load that was piling up in court.
“We were getting a lot more policemen, and, as the population grew, we had more crime in the village,” he said.
Luna, who will be 65 in April, said he was going to retire four years ago, but his friends talked him out of it.
“This time, they came around again, but I already decided that I was done,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed it here, but it’s time to step down and let someone else take over.”
As Luna contemplated his departure from the bench, he remembered why he first decided to run for judge, over three decades ago.
Luna was a Los Lunas police officer in 1959 and ’60. Although he was on the force for only two years, he said he learned a lot about the law and wanted to continue in the process as judge.
Today Luna is ready to hang up his robe and just enjoy retirement.
“Everyone asks me what I’m going to do when I retire,” he said. “I tell them I’m going to do nothing. My wife and I talked about it, and we decided we weren’t going to do anything for the first year.
“If it gets boring, I might think about getting a part-time job, but I like to plant my garden in the summer time, and we might take up fishing again,” Luna said. “I’m just going to take it easy and try to get the law out of my head for a little while.”
When the next judge takes office next week, Luna said he’ll be available if they need advice or to offer a few pointers.
“I’ll be more than glad to come in and help,” he said. “I’ll have the time.”
When asked what advice he has for the next judge, Luna said any judge has to be fair, open-minded and strict.
“You have to be tough on them, too,” he said. “But, you also have to use a lot of common sense.”
Luna admits to being strict and not letting offenders get away with a simple slap on the wrist.
“I’ve been a tough judge, especially on DWIs,” he said. “My percentage on DWI conviction is about 97 percent. DWIs have done enough damage and killing that I don’t let them just go.”
One of Luna’s funniest memories wasn’t a case that came before him, but a crime committed yards away.
For the past several years, Luna has grown watermelons behind the Village’s administration building.
One afternoon he discovered someone had plucked the fruit out from under his nose. “I ran and told the detectives to look into it because it was a hot case,” Luna said laughing.
After 34 years behind the bench and casting his judgment on thousands of people, Luna said he will miss his job and the people he works with.
“I’ve enjoyed my time here, and I’ve enjoyed all the people I work with, but it’s time for me to leave and for someone new to come in,” Luna said.
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.