Our 6th Judicial District (two judges here in Silver City) recently hired one of their daughters-in-law to be their Special Master in family and juvenile law. Abigail Robinson is the new Special Master; J. C. Robinson is her father-in-law.
Judge Quintero says he made the decision, not J. C. Robinson. Quintero then left town for a month to go on vacation. Interestingly, Quintero and Robinson used to own their own law firm and practiced together. Looks like they're still "practicing." Surely, there must be rules again judges hiring their own family to work for them and make decisions on cases. There is.
When making appointments, judges “shall exercise the power of appointment impartially and on the basis of merit.” NM Rule 21.213. Merit means relevant qualifications in law. Attorneys specialize in certain areas of law and could be exposed to malpractice claims if they take on cases in which they are not qualified.
That means Abigail Robinson's experience must have merit because she practiced primarily in family and juvenile law, right? Nope. She worked as Grant County's lawyer and in her total of 8 yrs experience as a lawyer worked in family law only 4 months.
Of the other 3 applicants, 1 had 25 years in family law, 1 had a gazillion years in juvenile/criminal law, and 1 had 12 years' experience in family law.
The same rule says appointments “shall avoid nepotism…” There's no room for interpretation in the word "shall." It's mandatory. Means "you can't do it." Nepotism is defined by the judicial committee who interprets the rule as including relatives “within the third degree of relationship of either the judge or the judge’s spouse or domestic partner, or the spouse or domestic partner of such relative.” Abigail Robinson with within two degrees of relationship.
And, New Mexico judicial ethical canons require they “shall uphold and promote .. integrity..”(21-100; Canon 1). They “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence” in their integrity (21-102). Again,“shall” is mandatory. By rule, judges cannot erode the public’s confidence through the “appearance of impropriety.” See: http://www.ajs.org/ethics/pdfs/
Our judges have tainted themselves for any and all decisions they make from here on out. None of them can recuse himself from hearing a case because they're all "family." We can no longer trust any of them.
Then, there’s the economic issue. Because Abigail Robinson isn't supposed to work for J.C. Robinson are related, court administrators are supposed to build what they call a “Chinese Wall” between her work and his. Don't see how that's happening if there's only her father-in-law in the office for a month while Quintero is gone. Also don't see how that's possible given the personal closeness of Quintero and the Robinson family.
If these judges don't fix this problem, advocate attorneys will have appeal points to take to the New Mexico Supreme Court - if a matter is appealable. Many aren't. And, they can't complain because it's commonly know the judges retaliate.
And that means the administration of the court’s cases is now more expensive (that, and I suspect she’s getting paid more than the last special master they appointed). Rule 2-322 says that courts cannot “depart from proper judicial activity” in a way that “interfere[s] with or reflects[s] upon the court system or shake[s] public confidence in the administration of justice and the judiciary.” Rule 2-322. Now my public confidence is completely gone.