Erich Cole appointed to bench by Gov. Susana Martinez

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AZTEC — The Aztec Magistrate Court will gain a new judge this month after Gov. Susana Martinez appointed a new judge to the county magistrate court.

Karen Townsend, chief judge for the 11th Judicial District Court, swore in Erich Cole as the new judge for the Division I of the San Juan County Magistrate Court during a ceremony Friday morning in Aztec District Court.

Cole was appointed to the bench by the governor on Dec. 22 during a series of appointments she made to state councils and boards across New Mexico.

He will fill the seat vacated by former Judge Connie Johnston, who was removed from the bench and permanently barred from holding a judicial office statewide on Oct. 23 by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Johnston, appointed to the bench by Martinez on Aug. 15, 2014, was suspended without pay on Feb. 10, 2016, by the state Supreme Court.

Many of Cole's friends and family members were present as Townsend swore him in in one of the courtrooms in the Aztec District Court building.

Townsend described Cole as a straight shooter when he previously testified in her courtroom.

Cole is an officer for the Farmington Police Department, working in the department's District Coordinator Unit.

He started working for Farmington police in November 2011. His last day on the force is on Friday, and his first day on the bench will be Jan. 16.

Before his career in law enforcement, he was a supervisor for M & R Trucking and a pilot for Mesa Airlines. Cole earned his master's degree in criminal justice at Kaplan University in Chicago.

After being sworn in, Cole told those in attendance he was thankful for them showing up and that he appreciated their support.

"I will work hard to be fair and impartial," Cole said.

Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe was one of the people on hand to witness the ceremony.

"One of the things I've always admired about Erich is he really cares about the community," Hebbe said. "He wants to make a difference, and he's going to be a great addition to the bench."

Cole is the president of the board of the nonprofit Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, a position he'll vacate due to his judicial appointment.

He said he is eager to finish the remainder of Johnston's term, which is scheduled to end on Dec. 31. Cole plans to run for judge seat again during the June 5 primary election and the Nov. 6 general election.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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