Friday, February 29, 2008

If it weren't for lawyers, we wouldn't need them.....

The voters in the City of Santa Fe are getting ready to vote on an amendment to the City Charter which would require those who want to run for Municipal Judge to hold a law degree. The local newspapers have advocated for this in editorial after editorial each election year where the municipal judge is on the ballot since the days of Judge Tom Fiorina.
In my teenage years I remember getting a ticket, Ok, maybe more than one, and appearing before Municipal Judge Rumaldo E. “Cuate” Chavez. I had to research his real name since no one knew him as anything more than Judge Cuate Chavez. I remember sitting in his office with my mother and handling the whole thing pretty informally. No passing through a metal detector, standing in one line to check in, then waiting in a packed courtroom for the judge to appear and taking in case by case and everyone wondering if the judge is going to be as tough or lenient as she is to the case she is hearing now. It was the true peoples court. Judge Cuate scolded me and then went easy on fines, He knew my mother, a single mother of four children, working two jobs to get by, would be footing the bill. He also knew that my mother would be much more harsh on me than anything he could meat out.

This was true peoples court. No big formality's, no "please rise" as the judge entered the court room and you got true one on one time with the judge to plead your case. Quite a stark contrast to the Red Light Camera era upon us now. Granted it is a court of law and the city has grown tremendously since these days in the early 80's. But has the true premise of a "peoples court outgrown Santa Fe? Have we progressed so far that we must give up the idea of a peoples court and decide that what we need for petty misdemeanors and misdemeanors is beyond the common sense judge and what we need is someone who has gone to law school?

If voters want a lawyer couldn't they just elect one during election times? Currently while you do need a law degree to run there is nothing to preclude any and all lawyers to run. It would be interesting to see a good non-lawyer candidate face a lawyer candidate and see really how the voters would decide. I was interested in seeing such a race this time around however no one challenged the incumbent lawyer candidate.

I feel that more important than a law degree is a person of good common sense. Someone who decide cases within the law but having true compassion and understanding that this is a court which commonly handles not real criminals, but real people dealing with daily problems and who may have made a mistake, or maybe they are innocent. Ayn Rand a Russian born American Writer once said
The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.” Sometimes I believe this to be true. It is usually in the misdemeanor category that this is most true.

Things like the Cell Phone ordinance in the city are perfect examples. The Police have many options to give citations to those who drive badly or are inattentive to their driving due to cell phone use. The actual hands free cell phone ordinance in my opinion is not needed and only causes some people who are actually good careful drivers to break the law. I know of no one who has not broken this law even just long enough to tell someone they will call back or to tell them to hold on while they pull over. These kinds of laws I believe are just the things that require a common sense judge and not a law degree to make a decision on. In my profession I have appeared before many a Judge, many of them with or with out law degree's. I have seen good and bad on both sides. On felony cases and in courts of record I fully believe we need judges who are lawyers. In misdemeanor and courts which are not courts of record ie- Municipal and Magistrate I believe we can still have citizen judges who may or may not have law degrees.

I urge the
public to vote no' on Amendment Seven, which would require candidates for Municipal Judge to hold law degrees. Those lawyers who want to run will not be precluded and we will not preclude good candidates who do not hold degrees from running.

"I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five." Steven Wright, Comedian

Monday, February 11, 2008

Is it really Pork?

As we watch the poker game at the roundhouse I can't help but think that the legislature with the help of Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish have called the Governors raise and now the Governor has to decide is he all in or does he check on the river? Or is it really the legislature that is drawing dead and the Governor holds the Ace in the hole in this battle?

All poker metaphor's aside it was very interesting to watch the battle over capital outlay money. Whenever one of these battles happen the media or the opponents takes to calling these projects "pork" or "pork barrel money" this has a bad connotation. However, the truth is that this is the very reason we have legislators who come from each district and county in the state. Each district elects their legislator and sends them to Santa Fe to represent not only the state as a whole but the district as well. It is their job to ensure that they return with their districts fair share of government projects. This is how jails, police stations, courts, library's, parks, colleges, schools, streets, bridges, sewer plants, water treatment plants, etc, etc, etc, get built. If your legislator was ineffective in getting these things for your county, city or district they would not last long.

The same newspaper reporter who writes about "pork" is the same one who will just as quickly write a story about an ineffective legislator who can't get anything done. Yes sometimes legislators fund some bad things. Money for parties, roads that are on private lands, and other embarrassing funding bills. On the other hand most of these capital outlay projects are needing in the communities where they are funded. Providing these basic services and infrastructure is exactly why we have a government in the first place. Otherwise the colonists would have kicked England out and just stayed without any organized government at all. No country has been able to flourish without some sort of government and never will.

So back to Governor Richardson and the New Mexico Legislature. I have some advice for the Governor, Sometimes you lay down the winning hand.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Would you stand in line to vote for no one?

I was checking the results of New Mexico's Democratic Party caucus this afternoon. I was still trying to see if we had a winner although I pretty much knew we would not have a declared winner yet. I have been looking at the results since yesterday evening and it only dawned on me today. 405 people in the state of New Mexico took the time to vote "uncommitted". Now I don't know how many were absentee ballots however I can't help but wonder. Who would take the time to drive to their polling site, stand in line for anywhere from minutes to hours, and then vote for no one? Even if the vote is absentee, who would request an absentee ballot, have it mailed to them, fill it out and check the uncommitted box and then affix a stamp and mail it back?

Don't get me wrong I want everyone to take the time to vote and take part in the democratic process. So maybe if you just can't make up your mind but want to still take part you show up and vote "I don't know". It was very interesting and the hamsters in my head are running at full speed as I ponder the thought.

What if Uncommitted won even one congressional district. Would those delegates to the National Convention get to vote for who ever they want? Or would they have to go and vote "I don't know". Also does uncommitted equate to "none of the above". What if the ballot only had the names of those who remained in the race and no opportunity to vote uncommitted? 4, 500 voters would have had to choose between Hillary or Barak or enter a write in candidate. How much would this have changed this election in which the win hinges on less than 200 votes. Hmmm.

Below is the latest results as of 2-6-08 at 6:04 pm which I got from KOAT's web site. The Democratic party did not have grand totals only county by county, It includes the latest uncommitted votes.

2008 New Mexico Democratic Caucus
Hillary Clinton 66,17349%
Barack Obama 65,96348%
Bill Richardson 1,1811%
John Edwards 2,0251%
Joe Biden 1120%
Chris Dodd 680%
Dennis Kucinich 4990%
Uncommitted 4050%
Precincts Reporting - 181 out of 184 - 98%

Should New Mexico Return to a Democratic Primary?

My wife Antoinette and I arrived at our polling place, Sweeney Elementary School at about 5:20 pm on Super Tuesday to cast our vote in the Democratic Caucus. As we walked into the door one of the poll workers walked up to me and said "we may need your help, we ran out of ballots and people are getting angry" I began to survey the crowd and see just what I was walking into when a young woman walked in with more ballots. Apparently there was about a 20- 30 minute wait while more ballots were obtained. The lines were long but seemed to begin moving quickly once the ballots arrived. My wife and I got into line and then my son called to say that his truck broke down and he was along side the road. My wife and I left the line and went to go help him.

The three of us returned to the school at about 6:40 about 20 minutes before the 7 pm deadline to vote. Lines were still long but moving relatively quickly. My wife and I had no trouble voting on the old fashion paper ballot. My son was missing from the voter lists and he was forced to file a provisional ballot. We all left about 7:20 and there was still a small line of voters waiting to cast their ballot.

I could not help but wonder what it would be like for all the 22 Santa Fe polling places and the 184 polling places across New Mexico to count and recount these paper ballots. I also could not help but think about all the brand new ballot machines in storage in cities and counties all across this state. They are sitting idle because in 2003 New Mexico decided to have a democratic party run caucus rather than a State run June Primary as was the case in previous years.

After a push by Governor Richardson a state law was passed in 2003 allowing parties to opt out of the primary election and hold their own presidential "caucuses," giving the party control over the date separate from the primary set by law. Governor Richardson and the Democratic party wanted the early February caucus and the Democratic State Central Committee went along with the idea. In the 2004 Presidential Elections New Mexico benefited from a lot of attention brought to our state by the candidates. Now there are 22 states, many larger with many more delegates who now have their elections on super Tuesday along with New Mexico. We no longer stand out and now are just one of the many.

Meanwhile we have given up the opportunity for a professionally run election with modern voting machines which can give near instant vote totals immediately after the polls close. I fully support the democratic party however I do believe elections should be run by county clerks and the Secretary of State. In todays day and age to not walk into a polling place and easily and quickly vote in a modern machine and not have to wait days for meaning full results is not too much to ask for.

It is now 12:44 am and I am watching the sporadic results being posted in between Conan O'Briens interviews and a late night performance by Sheryl Crow. There are 19 counties out of 22 reporting and Obama is ahead by 218 votes. The counting will continue in the counties which have not yet reported however there are almost 17,000 provisional ballots which will not even begin to be counted until later in the day on Wednesday. The election is so close that those ballots will really matter. This election will not be over and final until late Wednesday or Thursday.

Many polling places across the state ran out of ballots just like mine did. In Rio Rancho there was one polling place for what is one of the largest cities in the state. Voters waited up to 3 hours to vote and police had to be called to assist with disgruntled voters. Voters across the state faced long lines and long waits to vote in consolidated precincts. If the County Clerks or the Secretary of State ran elections that turned out like this they would face a hard re-election. I don't blame the democratic party they are not equipped or financed to handle statewide elections. The good thing is that more and more people are voting. We had record numbers in 2004 and It looks like 2008 will break those records. We can not afford to lose the momentum of excited voters getting to the polls. Many disappointed voters headed home and gave up on casting ballots. Will they return in November? Or will they give up on casting their votes? Not to mention that workers were not given time to go vote since this election was not a state run election. How many more would have voted had they had the hour off to go vote? How many voters thought voting was from 7am to 7 pm as it normally is rather than the noon to 7 pm as the Democratically run caucus was? How many showed up at 7 or 8 am and then never returned?

The Democratic Party needs to seriously take a look at the pro's and cons of the February caucus vs the June Primary. I feel the time has come to go back to a state run primary.