By David Arkin: PNT Correspondent
Democrat Edward Chavez, 47, of Albuquerque, and Republican Ned Fuller, 38, of Albuquerque, will face each other in November for a seat on the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Q: What experience do you bring to the table?
A: Chavez — Before being appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson in March of 2003 to the New Mexico Supreme Court I practiced law for over 22 years. I have served as president of the Legal Aid Society of Albuquerque, chairman of the University of New Mexico Mental Health Center and chairman of the disciplinary board. I taught at the UNM School of Law as an adjunct instructor, and also taught at the National Institute of Trial Advocacy.
A: Fuller — I graduated from law school in 1993 and was appointed as the assistant director for workers’ compensation for the state and then I was appointed to be a workers’ compensation judge for three years. Recently, I have been in private practice.
Q: Why did you decide to run for the position?
A: Chavez — I believe that the Court needs someone from the trenches. I thought that I could add a perspective and help the Court toward a more efficient and less expensive operation. I feel that because I come from the trenches that it provides a different perspective for the Court.
A: Fuller — There are too many judges rewriting the law, instead of following the law. Across the state and country, too many judges have decided to become legislators in too many instances.
What are your thoughts on how the New Mexico Supreme Court has operated recently?
A: Chavez — I believe the Court has made some good progress recently. We’ve made sure that cases aren’t dismissed. We have many water issues that are going to be coming up. We have a water law judge in each district and I think we need to take a good hard look at the rules and encourage an efficient system. We’ve also made some progress with the jury system as we’ve made it more user-friendly. We need to make sure that we have translators available for jurors and need to make sure that our jurors understand the rules, like extra witnesses and jury note taking. We are trying to draft a best-practice manual.
A: Fuller — Obviously, I think things can be better or I wouldn’t be running. What it needs is balance. We have had one elected Republican to the New Mexico Supreme Court in 72 years. The last Republican we had on the Court was back in the 80s. We just need a little more diversity on it. Most people who I talk to aren’t happy with the court system as a whole. What I would say to people is that if you are not happy with things, then it’s time to make a change.
Q: Why should people vote for you?
A: Chavez — I have a greater level of experience for this position than my opponent. When I went onto the Court I wanted to make sure we were more active in publishing more opinions and I fulfilled my goal. We are writing more opinions and getting a higher work product out. I feel like the court needs to lead by example.
A: Fuller — I bring diversity, balance and a little common sense.
Q: With the recent resignation of former District Judge John Brennan, what are your thoughts on how the public views substance abuse among judges and high-profile public officials?
A: Chavez — Judges are human beings. And as a result they are subject to failing. I have confidence in our judicial system and believe the character of the system is sound. I feel New Mexico voters should look at the candidates that they have to choose from and decide if those people have the character and qualifications they want.
A: Fuller — As far as public relations are concerned, I have been drug tested recently and I passed. It’s unfortunate that it comes to that. People can’t trust the courts and if what it takes is being drug tested then that’s what we’ll have to do.
Q: What would you personally get from serving on the Court?
A: Chavez — It would give me the opportunity to give back to the state of New Mexico.
A: Fuller —The first thing you get is service. A lawyer is always serving someone else and that is a really rewarding place to be, helping people through their problems. People don’t have lawyers if they don’t have problems. Also, serving gives me the opportunity to provide for my family and I am married and have four children and feel grateful that I have been able to provide for them.
Q: What do you think needs to change with the Court?
A: Chavez — We have established a number of task forces. We are taking a good hard look at the court system and how we can improve the jury system. I think the courts are starting to focus on reliable customer service. We are starting to put a focus on providing service to our customers.
A: Fuller — In terms of how we approach the law, I think that we should defer to the Legislature. I would apply the law as it is written. Sometimes I think our profession thinks the average person doesn’t understand how the system works and I think that the average person can understand it.