Read a candidate biography on Marci Ellen Beyer
Editor's note: These are part of an ongoing series of stories the Sun-News will run daily looking at the local races in the upcoming election.
LAS CRUCES - Can a judge be fair and impartial when the attorney in court before them is a friend and ex-colleague?
That is the question posed by Marci Ellen Beyer, the Democratic challenger to Republican Susan Riedel for district judge in Division 2.
Riedel had been chief deputy district attorney before being appointed to the bench by her former boss, now-Gov. Susana Martinez. She is now hearing cases brought by prosecutors who were once co-workers, which is a problem, Beyer said.
"A judge should never sit on a case where someone could reasonably say they were prejudiced or biased," Beyer said. "How could you not be biased with people that you worked with, that you've campaigned with, that you've supervised for 20 years? It is just not realistic.
"I'm not beholden to the executive branch or anyone else. I'm an independent private practitioner, and although I've represented government entities in the past, I can assure everyone I will not be judging cases by attorneys who I've practiced with in the trenches for 20 years; lawyers who I've supervised and lawyers who I've worked with.
Under that standard, no prosecutor could ever be appointed judge, Riedel said.
"I have to take it a little personally that there's an implication that somehow I'm not fair and impartial, and I also think (Presiding) Judge Driggers should take that personally, that he apparently has appointed someone who cannot be fair and impartial in handling criminal cases," Riedel said. "I think that tells you that that statement is just not fair and not true. There are a number of people who you can ask, people who have appeared in front of me, if I am fair and impartial, and I can confidently say they would tell you that I am."
Riedel said she was surprised by the reaction to her ruling in the Sunland Park election case, where she denied a request by the District Attorney's Office to cancel the election.
"What really shocked me was a decision I made in the Sunland Park election case, the number of people who seemed to be truly surprised that I ruled against the District Attorney's Office in that case," she said. "I was stunned that anyone would even imply that I am somehow beholden to anyone." That includes Gov. Martinez, Riedel said.
"I would hope that anybody who knows good people, knows them for particularly as long as Susana knows me, and knows them to be good, hard workers, smart, who excel at what they do, would not pass those people over for fear of the word 'crony,'" she said. "I've been independent my entire career, and I will continue to be independent."
Beyer said if she is elected, it would be her goal to bring stability to the family law section of the court. Too often in the past, that judgeship has been seen as a stepping stone, she said.
"There's been a revolving door in family court. It's sort of the stepchild," Beyer said, adding that children and families in crisis need consistency and stability from the court.
"I think it's important that you have someone who has worked with all kinds of people in all kinds of cases, and can hit the ground running," she said. The chief judge can ask you to do anything, and I can do all those kinds of cases. More importantly, I know how they all fit together.
"I've represented hundreds of children. I really care about families. Family law is more valuable than any big cases that I've won because I can help people solve problems."
Beyer said that her 30 years in criminal law as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and her experience in civil law, give her a broader background than Riedel to bring to the court.
Riedel brings 27 years of experience, and though she has never been a defense attorney, she said that has not slanted her perspective.
"Marci hasn't been a prosecutor for well over 20 years, and never in New Mexico," she said. "I don't think I have to be a defense attorney to understand what the perspective of the other side is. I just have to have been a good listener, and I've always been a good listener."
This is one of three judicial races this year in the Third Judicial District. Other races are Darren M. Kugler, D, vs. Nelson J. Goodin, R; and Mary W. Rosner, D, vs. Jacinto Palomino, R.
Walter Rubel can be reached at email@example.com.