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FARMINGTON — Court officials announced Wednesday that Judge Karen Townsend has been selected to replace Judge John Dean Jr. as the chief judge of the Eleventh Judicial District Court.

Townsend, who was appointed May 14, will preside over district courthouses in Farmington, Aztec and Gallup. She is the first female chief judge to serve in the Eleventh Judicial District Court and will be responsible for the administrative functions of the courts, including human resources and budgetary issues, according to Court Executive Officer Weldon Neff.

Dean was appointed chief judge in November 2009 and managed the Eleventh Judicial District Court's budget in the years following the recession. He said in an interview that he was proud of the staff's ability to maintain operations during that period, when the court faced significant budget cuts.

"We had 16 (staff) vacancies at one time," he said.

Dean spearheaded the creation of a juried art show at the Aztec district courthouse, where local art is displayed from late May to July. The third annual art show begins Friday.

Dean also helped create the Attorney Wall of Fame in Aztec that honors former local attorneys who have made invaluable contributions to the legal profession and the community.

Dean said he chose not to seek another appointment as chief judge of the district court.

"I think it's a job that should be passed around," he said.

Neff said Townsend was chosen by her peers on the bench, and she will serve a three-year term as chief judge. The chief judge position pays approximately $1,700 to $1,800 a year more than a regular district judge, Neff said.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and stgarrison@daily-times.com. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.

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