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Petitioners allege candidate selected did not meet job requirements

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FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled earlier this month the 11th Judicial District Court must vacate the selection of a candidate for a position which heard child abuse and domestic violence cases and start the hiring process over again.

The state supreme court issued an order and writ of mandamus Dec. 3 that directed Chief District Judge Karen Townsend of the 11th Judicial District Court to vacate Ellen Wayne's selection as a Child Support and Domestic Relations Hearing Officer/Domestic Violence Commissioner, according to court documents.

It also stated that a selection of a hearing officer/commissioner needs to be selected by a majority of district court judges in the respective judicial district.  

Petitioners Priscilla Shannon, Marita Robinson, Kristin Harrington and Kyle Finch through Albuquerque-based attorney Wayne Suggett filed paperwork on Oct. 5.

They alleged alleged Wayne did not meet the minimum job requirements for the position mandated by the state supreme court and New Mexico Legislature.

The four petitioners were candidates who also interviewed for the position, according to court documents.

The Child Support and Domestic Relations Hearing Officer/Domestic Violence Commissioner wears three different "hats," according to Judge Townsend. They hear divorce, domestic violence and child support cases, Townsend said.

The position requires a candidate must have at least one year of experience with family law or domestic relations matters.

The petitioners argued Wayne only had experience as a public defender handling criminal prosecution and didn't represent a client with a domestic relations docket, according to court documents.

The state supreme court did not address the job experience portion of the petition but ruled using court documents filed on Nov. 15, which stated five of the eight 11th Judicial District Court judges participated in the hiring and that only three selected Wayne.

The other two judges selected different candidates for the position.

Suggett told The Daily Times the state supreme court decision was a great result for his clients but did not address the job experience portion of the petition.

Townsend stated the state supreme court's decision is fair and the judicial district will abide by the decision.

New interviews for the position will take place in early January.

Townsend said the current Child Support and Domestic Relations Hearing Officer/Domestic Violence Commissioner will leave Friday.

Pending cases will be heard by the district judges including retired district judge Sandra Price until a new officer is selected and starts work.

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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