Fix New Mexico’s Corrupt Judicial Campaigns

Fix New Mexico’s Corrupt Judicial Campaigns

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Trish Lopez started this petition to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and

Hello everyone.

My name is Trish Lopez, and I am petitioning the Governor and New Mexico Legislature to pass a law creating a public financing option for District Court judges. Currently in 2020, it is both legal and “ethical” for judicial campaigns to be bankrolled by the lawyers who practice before them every day, and whose cases these judges preside over.

I am a mother to a 7-year old girl, a graduate of University of New Mexico, and a founder of a small business and non-profit. For almost two years, I have been representing myself (pro se) in a Family Court matter involving my daughter and and her father. For those of you who have not been through the Family Court system, it’s impossible to describe the misery. I’ve acted as my own lawyer because I could not afford the going rate of $300/hour for a family law attorney to represent me. After a lot of study, I learned how to read and write legal pleadings, prepare and speak in court hearings, and maintain my strength while under constant attack from my opposing counsel – one of the most expensive, well-connected family law attorneys in New Mexico. It’s been an exhaustive, traumatizing life experience. But throughout, I held on to the hope that if anyone would be ethical and fair, it would be our judge. Unfortunately that was wishful thinking.

What I did not expect to learn was that my judge’s campaign was financed by my opposing counsel and her law firm, the same lawyer who wrote a letter to our Governor advocating for this judge’s appointment to the bench last year, the same law firm that threw at least one fundraiser for my judge while we had hearings in her court, and the same law firm that turned out to be our judge’s largest campaign contributor outside of a New Mexico PAC—at least six contributions since my case began.

As someone unfamiliar with this practice, I was astounded. I’ve now learned this is common practice among District Court Judges in New Mexico, which includes civil, criminal, and family court.

I researched the law and found that this judge’s behavior violates at least four statutes of the NM Civil Code of Conduct and the NM Rules of Civil Procedure. I sent this to the NM Judicial Standards Commission, and after four months of waiting, they rejected my complaint by sending a template form letter. Their decision is unappealable. This incestuous social and financial relationship between judges and the lawyers who practice before them is not only legal, it is considered ethical by those tasked with oversight.

So here I am. As I spent this summer trying to heal from this horrible life chapter, and knowing that countless others have endured the same trauma, there’s no choice but to work on our own plan for change. Court cases take an enormous toll on people and their families, and many lawyers thrive under this conflict. This abuse of power affects everyone--the adults who go through our system, our children who suffer, even the legal professionals who see this corruption but conform and stay silent. No one wants to stand up to their friends or to people who have power over their livelihoods. 

My judge is now up for election, and she’ll win because she has no opposition. But  this problem is so much bigger than one judge, one lawyer, one family or one case. Allowing judges to take campaign contributions from the lawyers who appear in their courtrooms every day not only corrupts that person's character but also corrupts our judicial system and any appearance of impartiality. It’s well past time for change.

That's where we come in. As long as we have elected judges, judicial campaigns should be publicly financed. But public financing is not an option for District Court Judges in New Mexico. Our state can do a better job of protecting the integrity of our court system by holding judges accountable for the shadowy financial practices that fuel their campaigns.

Join us.

You can help by signing this petition to NM legislators and our Governor, and together we can demand that they end this corrupt practice by passing a law to create a public financing option for District Court Judges.

Additional Info

·        Learn more about public financing from Common Cause: https://bit.ly/3dBUfUD 

·         I’m creating a website and newsletter to share progress on reasonable steps that could improve our NM court system, and provide a safe space for people healing from their own court experiences. Sign up for updates: www.fixjudicialcampaigns.org 

·         I’m hopeful that legal professionals will see this, agree that the current practice harms the public, and join us in creating a path toward change.

·       Please message me with specific questions or more information on this issue. I'd like to protect the privacy of my loved ones involved. Thank you.

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At 5,000 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!