Gov. Susana Martinez will have three candidates to chose from when deciding who will replace retiring District Court Chief Judge Teddy Hartley following a sometimes dramatic session Friday of a special judicial nominating commission.
The candidates picked by the panel include former two-term Clovis City Commissioner and assistant district attorney Fred Van Soelen, Assistant District Attorney Brian Stover and Portales attorney Wesley Pool.
The names of the three finalists were revealed in a motion by Portales attorney Randy Knudson following about a half hour of closed deliberations. Most of the three-hour session in Hartley's courtroom was open to the public, and included questions from each member of the panel to each of the candidates.
The only other candidate for Hartley's job, Public Defender Christian Christiansen of Portales, wasn't selected after facing some of the session's toughest questions, initiated by District Attorney Matt Chandler.
Chandler, appointed to the panel by the governor, noted Christiansen pleaded to a misdemeanor in 2007 for advising a client to violate terms of their probation. The governor, then-district attorney in Dona Ana County, served as a special prosecutor in the Christiansen case.
Christiansen responded that if he had to do it over again, he would have handled the situation differently. Christiansen insisted, however, that his client's bond had been revoked when he advised her how to avoid a bondsmen waiting outside his office, telling her there was another door out.
Panel member Mark Sweetman, a Clovis attorney, said it appeared while Christiansen pleaded guilty to the charge, he was now saying he did nothing illegal.
"I did accept a plea," said Christiansen, his wife and three daughters listening from the audience. "Did I approach the situation right? I did not. Did I break the law? I feel I did not.
"The situation could have been handled better," Christiansen said. "Should have been handled better."
In retrospect, Christiansen said, he should have talked to the bondsmen to try and resolve the issue.
"I made a mistake," Christiansen said. "I'm not dodging that."
Clovis attorney Sarah Field asked Stover how he planned to handle public perception should he be picked by Martinez to succeed Hartley. Wright noted that should Stover be picked, it would mean Judge Stephen Quinn would be the only 9th Judicial District Judge who hadn't first worked in Chandler's office
"As a judge I would be independent of District Attorney Matt Chandler," Stover said. Stover also said he would need to get involved in more community activities to "let people know who you are and what you believe in."
In a lighter moment, Chandler also acknowledged that many of the 9th District judges first served in his office. Chandler added that he was asking the judiciary to please "stop fishing in my pond," provoking laughter through much of the courtroom.
Panel member John Chavez of Clovis, appointed by New Mexico's speaker of the House of Representatives Ken Martinez, a Democrat, asked Stover how well he knew Republican governor Martinez.
Stover said he was introduced to the governor and spoke with her momentarily during a recent political function in Clovis.
"I wouldn't say I know Susana Martinez, no," Stover said.
Martinez has 30 days to select one of the three final candidates to replace Hartley, who plans to retire later this month.