Republican Paul Barber, an Albuquerque attorney, is challenging incumbent Democrat Michael Vigil, also of Albuquerque. Barber is running on the identical "rescue the courts" platform as Ned Fuller. If you believe there is a crisis of public confidence in the state judiciary, that activist judges are rewriting the laws while issuing rulings based on partisan favoritism, and that the rumors are true about judges partying after hours, Mr. Barber is your man. Hopefully, if you do believe this, you have witnessed it with your own eyes or through honest experience of others.
Barber has two decades of legal experience, including a term as director of the Workman's Compensation Administration and as an appointed District Court judge in Bernalillo County in 1998, where he lost the election to hold the seat less than a year later. Barber lost a bid for the State Supreme Court two years ago by less than one percentage point. He also served one term as a state representative in the Legislature, serving District 29 on the Westside. Barber believes New Mexico lacks tough oversight of "problem judges" and calls for "more balance" on the Court of Appeals, whose 10 members comprise eight Democrats and two Republicans.
In our interview, Barber held the opinion that courts should be apolitical, but also stated that it's "nonsense to believe philosophical difference don't exist between Republicans and Democrats." Most disappointing, however, was Barber's answer to our question: What did you think about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Gore v. Bush case that decided the 2000 presidential election? He said he never read it. We expect, minimally, a greater sense of intellectual curiosity from a judge that is concerned about so-called partisan opinions on the court.
Judge Michael Vigil practiced law for 28 years in New Mexico before being appointed to the state Court of Appeals by Gov. Bill Richardson in January. During this time, he said he was an attorney on 50 precedent setting cases in the state. Vigil also boasts trial experience in every district across New Mexico, handling cases ranging from zoning issues, child custody, medical malpractice and murder. Vigil also received a unanimous recommendation from the state's bipartisan judicial review board before being appointed to the Court of Appeals. He also boasts the endorsement of nine retired State Supreme Court Justices and seven retired State Court of Appeals Justices.
When asked to define an activist judge, Vigil said, "I don't know what that means." He said the Court of Appeals assigns cases to a three-judge panel, which often leads to 2-1 opinions, regardless of each judge's political party affiliation. He called the appeals process "very conservative in nature," and described his judicial philosophy as "applying established precedent to a set of facts." Vigil exhibited an impressive knowledge of state law and the judicial process—an awareness of how Court of Appeals decisions can impact all other areas of the law—and rejected what he called "buzzwords designed to be a diversion." One familiar buzzword phrase comes to mind: "legislating from the bench." We hate that kind of vague, meaningless rhetoric that misguides voters' emotions without being supported by facts. Most importantly, no judge should ever have a preconceived political agenda, nor ever draw conclusions based on rumor, innuendo or guilt by association.
The Alibi endorses Michael Vigil for New Mexico Court of Appeals.