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Candidates answer your questions


Magistrate Judge Candidates- .L-R: .Erich Cole; Frank Dart; and Gary McDaniel.PHOTO-TALON STAFF

The forum was hosted by the Farmington Young Professionals at the Civic Center in Farmington, NM on Wednesday May 23, 2018 at 5:30pm with twelve Republican and Democrat Candidates participating. The Moderator was Scott Michlin, General Manager of San Juan College Public Radio, KSJE 90.9FM. All candidates were courteous and respectful of other candidates and audience, adhering to allotted time limit while answering the following questions.

Magistrate Judge Candidates: Erich Cole, Gary McDaniel, Frank Dart

Q: What makes you qualified for the Magistrate Judge position?

Cole: Has a Masters in Criminal Justice, was an air plane pilot, Jet Captain, Real Estate Broker, 3 years in oil field safety,a Law Enforcement Officer for Farmington Police Department, Valedictorian of his Police Academy Class, Police Instructor and Training Officer, former President for Sexual Assault Services of New Mexico, Appointed to Magistrate Judge Division 1 in December 2017 by Governor Martinez "By the time my term is over I believe I'll have more experience than my competition."

Dart: Has been involved in public service most of his adult life, Started out working with abused children as a Child Advocate, Served in the United States Marine Corps, Served as a Farmington Police Officer for 18 years which included approximately nine of those years chasing down child predators, preparing and documenting thousands of probable cause statements, search warrants and arrest warrants. Decided to run for judge years ago when he witnessed the defense attorney of an alleged perpetrator hovering intimidatingly over an eleven year old sexual abuse victim on the witness stand. Dart believed proper court room etiquette was not enforced by that judge and related he is strong enough to enforce that etiquette and the job.

McDaniel: Has an especially vested interest in San Juan County because his ancestors pioneered in this area, Being a Conservative Christian plays a big part in his decisions, Attained a Bachelors Degree from New Mexico State University in Police Science, 33 years experience in Law Enforcement in San Juan County, Recently retired from the SJC Sheriff's Office, Served as City of Aztec Alternate Judge, Served as Magistrate Judge (2012). Taught High School Civics and Street Law, Involvement in the Oil and Gas Industry as well as running a farm and ranch, all of which he can draw from that helps in making decisions as a judge.

Q: What challenges is the state court system facing? Do any of these challenges affect the residents of San Juan County?

Dart: "One of the biggest challenges... is the change in bonding procedures in terms of how an individual is charged with a crime is able to bond out of jail or not bond out. The higher courts have recently made some rulings that dramatically change the way the bonding process occurs, in many ways to the great detriment to the overall system and to individuals as well....Prior to these recent decisions, an individual, if they were charged with a crime, there was a specific dollar value bond amount in which they had to pay to be released from custody pending trial. That has since changed to a more daunting process where there is literally a page and a half or two pages of questionaires which the court must review in order to determine whether or not the bond amount for a particular individual is appropriate....Prior to this an individual knew what the amount was, everybody knew what the amount was, it was a set amount. It was standard and fair....It is a change that needs to be corrected."

McDaniel: "I do agree with Frank (Dart) that we've got to have some changes. Something has to be done differently...the so called 'catch and release' rule really needs to be looked at....It doesn't seem to be working. I think it's a danger to the community and law enforcement when we have the people that are screened and let out when probably they shouldn't be out...It doesn't make any sense when a person is charged with a pretty big degree of felony and he gets out on a... cash bond...We could also talk about the heavy case load....(It's tremendous)...Some of this is probably due to the econonomy....if we could get better funding, we could have a better court system...Repeat offenders are a problem. They need to be dealt with...a little more seriousness, a little harsher punishment than a lot of people...."

Cole: "I agree...the 'Catch and Release' Order which, formerly know as Pretrial Detention is a problem that needs to be fixed, however...it was meant to keep repeat offenders and dangerous criminals in jail and not for people who couldn't afford a bond to stay in jail... that's why bonds that are already set for certain crimes don't work. So, my solution to that is...easily figure out who's dangerous in the community and who's not....I think that court security in our area needs to be enhanced, and this does affect San Juan County. There's no baliff, there's no metal detector, there's nothing for the Magistrate Courts...I think that jury trials could be more efficient...researched today, 232 jurors for six jury trials...."

Q: How can local law enforcement and the Magistrate Courts work together to improve the safety of local residents?

McDaniel: "The Magistrate Court has to be independent of law enforcement because the duty under the Constitution is so involved with making certain that law enforcement respects the rights of citizens in the way it conducts it's business...As an officer with a lot of time here, I think it's very important to know how that works. And there's two things...that Magistrate can do to make certain these procedures come to fruition. It's involved with filed cases that they are done properly. Maybe getting witnesses to court, and that's a big problem a lot of times...and keeping records updated on some of the things like, a person is charged with maybe driving on revocation, how many DWI's he's had. We need correct records. So, that's the big thing that the officers consider (while) making a charging decision. It's what degree of DWI this is. We've got to have correct court records for this to happen. The second thing is to make sure law enforcement understands why something went wrong, if it does and there has enough explanation...I don't always side with the cops. I'm a cop at heart. I love law enforcement. I know what it takes to prove a case. But you've got to prove the case....You have to be fair and impartial."

Cole: The justice system in our community is comprised of police, courts, corrections and communications as in 911 and other core programs. The police are the enforcement and they serve the immediate function of public safety. They are part of the Executive Branch. The court is part of the Judicial Branch and it's function is to provide fair and impartial justice. One part that's missing in this question is the Legislative Branch. Who makes the laws? And we have little bodies that make the laws, and we have state bodies that make the laws...Our cooperation is essential to maintaining a safe community. Police get a part by removing the alleged criminals as well as providing thorough investigations....Judges need to be available to determine arrest and search warrants. Judges adjudicate and if found guilty determine if the offender can be deterred by future offenses by sometimes imposing a fine, by taking classes or counseling or if they're too dangerous to be in our society, then jail. So, we serve different functions but our communication and cooperation with different branches leads to improved safety..."

Dart: "Everyone wants to know why there isn't justice...Unfortunately in that kind of system there are going to be mistakes that happen. And sometimes there are going to be people that are charged with crimes that should not be charged with crimes. Sometimes there are going to be people who are guilty of crimes that doesn't get justice. There is no perfect solution and perfect fix to that...One of the things that I have seen is that there is very little follow through on what the problems are in individual situations or cases...Law enforcement and judges and prosecuters know the answers to those issues. What's missing in the equation is that we are not working together to try and fix those solutions, so when those mistakes happen, they are circumvented from happening in the future. Our leadership needs to pay attention to what happens to cases and why there are problems and figure our solutions and resolutions how to fix those problems so they don't keep happening over and over..."

Probate Judge Candidates: Stacey Biel, Gary Risley, Brandt Thrower

Q: What makes you qualified for the position?

Biel: 30 years experience in the legal field, Currently serves as Judge Protem at the Municipal Court, Owns an insurance office, Asked to serve as Magistrate Judge for almost six years, 15 years at District Court where complex Probate cases were handled, Three years at the District Attorney's Office, Instructor at the Judicial Education Center at UNM School of Law and developed curriculum , Appointed by the Supreme Court as a mentor judge to counsel and train judges across the state, Most recently served as Secretary for the San Juan Republican Women, President and Treasurer for the San Juan Rotary, On the board of directors for the Boy's and Girl's Club.

Risley: Was a candidate 16 years ago, won then and served as Probate Judge for two terms and was term limited out. During that time trained, organized, planned, and recruited also served as a Mentor Judge and since then other attorneys look to him to answer technical details on probate in San Juan County, Practicing Attorney with 30 to 50% dealing with Probate and Estate Planning which is highly detailed and technical, He is a professionally trained mediator to help process probate issues, Served five years as Republican County Chair.

Thrower: Practicing attorney, very knowledgable of Probate, father served as Probate Judge, will work to get paperwork out quickly, very knowlegable about how distributions are made appropriately for wills.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you will face as a Probate Judge?

Risley: "Recognizing the unusual or obscure" such as conflicting provisions for example, was the will executed properly? Who has the right to serve as the personal representative? Dealing with dueling families. Solution offered was to make sure the system is efficient.

Thrower: Challenges are document related. "How do you get that stuff in and out as quickly as possible to help folks?" He says that the ability to explain probate law offers people involved in probate cases better understanding.

Biel: She related that there is a conflict of interest if either one the opposing candidates who are attorneys are elected Probate Judge due to their practicing Probate and Estate planning.

Q: What specific goals would you like to accomplish as Probate Judge?

Thrower: He related that there would be no conflict of interest. Cases would be separate. "Let's get things done (including paperwork) quickly and efficiently...maintain efficiency...keep that moving forward...in a friendly and comforting fashion that will help people out in their times of need."

Biel: "I would like the San Juan County Probate Court to have the reputation as being the most professional probate court in the state"

Risley: "The primary goal is to make sure the public is receiving the best service possible."

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Coverage Will Continue In Next Week’s Talon

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