Officials: May take months to replace judge Orlik

Sharna Johnson

The courts have begun the process of filling a vacancy created by the unexpected death of District Judge Robert Orlik, however officials say it will likely be months before a replacement is appointed.

Orlik, 64, died Saturday night at the Lubbock Heart Hospital. Services were held Wednesday in Clovis.

“Judge Orlik is well respected by the members of the judiciary and (everyone) I have spoken to is very upset and saddened,” said Arthur Pippin, director of the administrative office of the courts.

“He will certainly be missed. You’d be hard pressed to find somebody who didn’t like him.”

Pippin declined to discuss the cause of death, citing a desire to respect the privacy of Orlik’s family.

Because the process of replacing a judge can be time consuming and judges in the 9th Judicial District had large caseloads prior to the vacancy, Pippin said the district plans to request a pro tem judge be named to serve in the interim.

“(Trying to manage Orlik’s caseload), would certainly be a real burden on the remaining four judges,” he said.

In the meantime, steps have been taken to create a judicial commission, which will be tasked with reviewing applications for the position.

Pippin said an announcement requesting applications will likely be made in the next couple weeks.

Qualifications for candidates include five years practicing law immediately preceding application and residency in the district.

The commission will select candidates from submitted applications and Gov. Susanna Martinez will have 30 days to make an appointment, he said.

The appointee will take the bench and is subject to election in the next general election, which will take place in 2012, Pippin said, and must be retained by voters every four years after.

A commission is created specifically for each vacancy and includes the dean of University of New Mexico Law School, an appeals court justice, the chief justice of the district, Judge Teddy Hartley or his designee, and residents of the district selected to meet political balance, Pippin said.

Already this year six judicial appointments have been needed around the state and each appointment is handled in the order it arises, with the 9th Judicial District being the most recent.

“They will do it as quickly as it can be done, but there are a number of them in the pipeline so to speak,” Pippin said. “Coordinating one of these things is a very difficult thing.”

Orlik had served nearly six years as the fourth of five judges for the 9th Judicial District, which covers Curry and Roosevelt counties. He was appointed to the judgeship by Gov. Bill Richardson in July 2005, then was retained in the 2008 election.

He had spent 27 years in private practice before his appointment, in addition to two years in the district’s public defender’s office in 1977 and 1978.

Orlik, who served as a judge advocate general for the U.S. Air Force, graduated from Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, N.J.