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

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