thumbnail of Report from Santa Fe; Joseph F. Baca
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Report from Santa Fe is made possible in part by grants from U.S. West, providing advanced telecommunication services to New Mexico homes and businesses and by New Mexico Tech on the frontier of science and engineering education. For bachelor's masters and PhD degrees, New Mexico Tech is the college you've been looking for 1-800-428-TECH. I'm running Mills. This is report from Santa Fe. Our guest today, Joseph F. Paca, the chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, judge at a long time. It's been a long time. I see a lot of times, but yes. Going into this legislative session, I was going through some notes and I remember I guess it was on three occasions when they had had a state
of the judiciary message to the legislature. Each time that's been given and I think you gave it last year. I gave it last year, that's right. It's always been well received because people always think of, especially at chief justice, as being very restricted. Almost as if their limitations we don't ask you about certain things. But whenever I've spoken to you or whenever I've heard you speak, you go far beyond what I would consider to be what I would ordinarily be expecting. For our audience today, can you give us a rundown of the state of New Mexico's judiciary in a sense, the funding all right, what we're looking at in terms, politicians, not you and I. Politicians would look at in terms of how we address the next millennium and then we'll talk about some of the other issues I've heard you speak. Sure. Well, Ernie, I think the state of the judiciary in terms of the people that are working in the judiciary is very good.
We have excellent judges around the state working hard. We have support personnel that are highly trained, highly motivated and work very, very hard and we're all proud of those folks. Now, in terms of funding, I can't say that we're right on top of that. You know, we consume, I believe it's 2.6% of the state budgets and we're actually a third branch of government, but when you have 2.3% you look more like a twig than a branch of government. So, we're out of sweat. Yeah. So we're a little concerned about the underfunding of the chronic underfunding we think of the judiciary. We know we're hearing that there are problems this year that revenues are not coming in as they would like. There's the request to reduce funding by 16% and that concerns us very much. So I can't say that the funding is perfect. We'd certainly like to talk about that. When they talk about the 16% reduction and this, I think the governor and the lawmakers agree. They have their own analysts, but
they do put their heads together. They're looking at about 100 million more dollars coming in slightly less than that for the general revenues for the next fiscal year. Of course, expenses then are going up all over. We have, I guess we call them standing expenses and standing growth, more youngsters in school, more people being incarcerated. Those expenses will total a lot more than 100 million dollars. Yet you constantly hear people saying we need tougher judges. We need to keep people more incarcerated, you know. But there's another side to this. You're a very compassionate person. I've known you for pretty close to almost 40 years. Your concerns are not always putting people in jail, for example, because you are the chief justice of the state, but you'd like to make sure they don't go to jail in the first place. You have concerns there too. I don't know how they can do that without
funding. Well, that's true. When people are saying, let's get tougher judges or let's put more people in jail. Our jails are full at the moment. They all got there because some judges put them in jail. You don't get to jail. You don't pass go. You don't get to jail unless you've had a trial or some sort of judicial proceeding than you're sentenced. Everybody who goes to jail, virtually everybody who goes to jail will eventually get out. So we're concerned about rehabilitation of folks when they're in jail because they will come out and they will be your neighbor at some point. We hope they won't cause you any more trouble. So it's really a very complex situation. One of the things that's always overlooked is the courts. Our caseloads are growing. The crime rate is growing. More police officers are put on the street through federal funding and through local funding. Prosecutors, offices are expanding, but the courts are not. We're really up against it
in terms of the caseloads that come before us. At the district level, of course, at the court of appeals level and then ultimately at the Supreme Court level. I tend to automatically figure that you're just overseeing all the courts in the state. And since that's right, the Supreme Court does, you have a responsibility for all of the courts all the way down to the smallest courts. I had an interesting experience where first I was surprised that I had some of my youngsters, other dentists, ended up on a jury where I went. Newsmen traditionally, I don't think it's a question of saying that it's easy to get off of your newsmen. I think they don't want us on, but they really know too much. But I was surprised at the number of the people. One woman was an acupuncturist. It was very fine. And a musician. And these are neighbors who probably could have had an easy out and not going, you know, serving on a jury. They didn't. Each one said, now that's my
responsibility. I'm not turning it over to the next fellow. That makes for a very interesting bonding. From that moment on, you're always saying, oh, we were on the jury, yeah. On the jury, that's right. You've heard that. Oh, yes, yeah. In the old days, when I was a trial judge, I used to have jurors for 30 days, the same panel of about 25 people. At the end of that, they were lifelong friends after that. And a couple of romances that grew out of that as well. It takes it to another level. Yes, it does. The other thing I noticed, in this particular case, it was Judge Arden Senus. And there was a person on the jury who didn't comment upon the dignity with which he treated the jury. When they came in, they, you know, they stood up. And he said, the place today says, we stand up for you. We said, the minute this starts, he said, you in a sense are the judge. And they are. And they are. And they are. But the dignity with which he treated these people really struck home. They were very touched by it. Yeah. We are, I think all
judges are concerned about treating the jurors correctly and treating them with dignity and with respect because we call them in from their lives. And we introduce them to a subculture in terms of the criminal cases that they've never experienced before. And sometimes it's rather shocking, the kinds of things that go on in various communities around the state. And then we give them the tough job and pay them minimum wage. We give them this tough job. And we say, you decide this case. You tell us if this person is guilty or not guilty. And that's an awesome responsibility. And so we're aware of that. And we try to treat the jurors very, very well. I too was called for jury duty down in Albuquerque. And this recently, oh, about a couple of years ago, that sentence was on the Supreme Court. And I was thinking, well, should I go or should not go? Because I knew the lawyers probably wouldn't want me on the jury. And I said, I better go to set an example. And I went. And I went through Vaudier. It was a very interesting medical malpractice case. And the lawyers threw
me off. But I, but I, I didn't make the effort. Did it, did it hurt your ego when they touched you up? It depends on who tossed me off. I just ran here. It would have been an interesting experience to be a member of the jury, to go into deliberations and to listen to the jurors. But the thought is with the Supreme Court justice or any judge that you would dominate or people would defer to you or that you would have more than one-twelfth of a vote. And so I understand that. See, and I always found you very non-intimidating. And I would wonder what would happen if they took the case and kept appealing it. And it got up to the Supreme Court. And I'd say that's a good decision. That was a good jury. But I, yeah, I, of course, would have to have to sit down and not take part in that. When, on the money stick, you went to the courts, the various levels. How much of the money that goes into the courts now comes from the general fund as such and your regular appropriations and how much would come from fees and things of that nature. Do
you have a figure for that? I don't have a feel for that. But the vast majority of the monies that we do get come from the general fund. Now, there are certain functions. Just last session we floated some bonds to fund our statewide automation project. And so fees are earmarked for that to retire those bonds. And I'm not sure it's about $5 million a year out of our budget. That's funding money. That's bonding money. Right. And that would be into computerization. That's right. We're trying, we are well down the road to statewide automation linking up all of the courts, central repository. So information will be available. There's a lot of talk about people getting away with 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, DWIs. What's happening here? Well, there's a lack of information. That information was not available to the trial judge. Through this system, then they'll have access to that and they'll know that this is a multiple offender. That's only part of it. But the possibilities for statewide
automation are just mind boggling. Now, I've always I find it interesting because the courts and the legislative session and the executive, this is a living breathing. Because it works off the constitution as such and it changes. There are ways to set it up so it can be changed. And I find it interesting because like this year, in no other time in my memory, have we gone right up to a legislative session with more lawmakers saying, well, I'm going to sue. And, you know, and again, I don't think it's appropriate to go into the specific cases with you now. But there are probably three hanging fire. And is the court under an obligation to act upon those in a hurry? If I got together with another lawmaker and said, I'm going to take this thing and we're going to sue to halt your activity. With this much time involved, what if the court just says we're I'm sorry, we're not going to act
on that for another six months or three or four months or so? Is there an obligation for you to get that out of the way before the session starts? Well, the courts have discretion on how to move these cases along. There are certain classes of cases that the legislature has told us we need to move along quickly. Criminal cases must be tried within six months. Workers' compensation cases get priority. Children's court cases, there's a very short time frame when those must be tried. But in the main general civil litigation, they can request and they must show then the burden is on them that there's some irreparable damage that will occur unless we act very quickly. And so it's a heavy burden and they must show us that. In that case, then there would be my job to go up to you and say, if you don't hear this, we might not have a legislative session. Something of that effect. And you just don't say it. You have to give us some proof that that is indeed the situation. You spoke not too long ago. It's within the last six months. And I think somewhat shocked
because they said, well, we usually figured he's going to come in and ask for more money for the computers and more money to uplift the courts as such. But you spoke about the courts' role and especially in the concerns over juvenile crime. Yes. Your message always has been important to me and I'd like to get your views for my audience on what we're looking at there. Well, juvenile crime, I think, is the one area of crime in New Mexico that is actually growing. Although we're aware of drive-by shootings and robberies, bank robberies, and other adult sort of activities, actually the statistics seem to show that there's a leveling off or maybe a slight decrease in adult crime. But it's not so with juvenile crime and it continues to grow. And the persons involved are getting younger and younger. And the kinds of activities they're involved in are getting more violent.
The 25 years I've been a judge in the 16 years that I was a trial judge. I saw that trend of more violence. And so that's a grave concern to us. What can we do? And many times by the time they get to us, the damage is done. And we're just applying a bandaid. And we've had a revision of our juvenile code a couple of years ago. And I think there's some movement to try to look at it again as crime gets more violent and younger and younger people are engaged in violent behavior. I guess there's a basic question, do you treat all juveniles alike? The shoplifters, the paint sniffers, along with those that commit murder, rape and mayhem. And I think the answer is probably no. But how do you discern that? How do you make that difference? That's what we're concerned about. As cases come before at various levels of the courts, you move away from certain types
of cases, Supreme Court and at least as far as state courts are concerned, that's the highest court that you're going to appeal to. And yet you also have a very strong role according to my figuring and the demeanor and the way in which attorneys and others act in a court. And the feeling I had the day, it was a criminal court. And I was surprised because in that particular case, the attorneys and the judge and the judge pretty well can control a lot of that. If I ever had one concern, it would be from people who say to me, I was robbed and I went in. And the defense attorney made it seem as if I were the guilty party. Now, for a judge who sees this constantly, that's one thing. But for someone who go, you know, how often do people end up in the courtroom? And they were somewhat shocked
by the attorney behavior. Do you think that has gotten out of line? I don't know, because I don't see the court so much anymore either. Yeah, I think it's a national problem. It's called rambo litigation and enforcing your will on someone and to be very disagreeable. It's all right to disagree, but you don't have to be disagreeable. And we understand that we're running an adversary system that one side presents one view, the other side presents the other view, but there has to be civility in how it is done. And a judge has a lot of responsibility in making certain that it doesn't get out of hand. And I know around the country and here locally, there are a lot of continuing legal education courses engaging the lawyers, engaging the judges. We have a bench bar conference that addresses these kinds of things. How do you behave in court? We try to get young lawyers right after they are
admitted and try to impress on them their responsibilities as lawyers. And it's not to be pit bull, but certainly aggressively represent your clients, but there's a way of doing that. There's a gentlemanly and a lady-like way of doing that. And so it is a problem, and we're concerned about the image of the courts. And lawyers are not held, I think it's no secret, held in not very high esteem because of some of the activities of lawyers. And we're concerned about that and aware of it and trying to take some steps to address it. I saw a bumper sticker, believe it or not, that said, support justice, punch out a lawyer. I believe that. You can see how that would happen. On the other hand, I think that those that we single out are certainly not on the majority of attorneys. And I think those that maintain the dignity that the courts want are in the majority, it's kind of an
interesting thing. It's like congressmen, congresspersons. People think that congress is something wrong there, but my congressman is okay. And you hear that. Lawyers have a bad reputation, but the lawyer who represented me, or my lawyer, he's good. He's she is good. Well, we've heard it, and when people talk today about government, they ask for civility. You'll hear this through this legislative session that's coming up now. People are saying that there was rather uncivil during the recent campaign. And people are saying, let's get back civility. And what it really means is that people are being pretty decent to one and another. If, when you appear before this legislature, and I rather expect they're going to ask you to speak, because our courts up here bring a lot of, you know, they bring a heavy hand to government. And more and more, I see them calling upon the judiciary for
advice and for guidance. You know, we've had this on whether people like gambling or not, you know, these courts, they come up, they've gone up the ladder, now up to the federal courts as such. But the court's role is not smaller. It's getting greater every day. And I think they're going to look to you for guidance, not only in how they handle their own affairs, but in making sure that you can look ahead to this next millennium that we're looking at now. What about the impact, things like television now? You know, we remember for years, we used to watch the TV shows, you know, and, you know, you could, so much of what we saw there, you would find lawyers trying to imitate some of the lawyers they saw on TV, we'd get the threat of how violent, violence on television affects youngsters and such. What are you looking at is the major problems that are brought in from the outside
influence and to the court system? Well, you're mentioning television, and you're mentioning the use of the courts. I think two different questions. I think there's an interesting dichotomy that's developing here. On the one hand, the courts are being criticized, and lawyers and judges are being criticized. And on the other hand, when people have really important matters, where do they go? And they go to court. And that's the way it's supposed to work, rather than settling it out in the street with, and that sort of thing. And television in the courts, of course, the ultimate television was the O.J. Simpson case. And however you feel about the verdict, however, it turned out, I think most people walked away with a bad impression of the courts, which is unfortunate. You know when that started out, and the preliminary
hearing was being held before I believe her name was Judge Kennedy. And I thought this is really very good and educational because they're talking about these search and seizure issues that invoke the Constitution of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. And I thought this is a real civics lesson for everybody. They're going to learn a little bit about search and seizure and right to privacy and these kinds of issues. But then after that plenary hearing was over, and I got into the main event, then some other wields came off. It was interesting because even I had made this early on decision on that, not to cover any aspect of that trial. Just said, you know, you have an occasion or report. Just you know, it's progressed into its 350th day or what, and the decision is expected in such a time because that line is so thin as to when it becomes a side show. The things that are allowed inside the courtroom, and that comes down outside. The other thing that is interesting, and
I'm really surprised about it, the people in the media who will make appeals to people, for example, on juries, you know, to say, well, we'll be interested in, you know, possibly a book or a TV show. Now, I go back to the period as a young journalist. When you would never buy a story, it was your right to go in and cover this story, but it was unpardonable to go in and say, can I buy this from you? And you say, well, it's my story and say, yeah, but you can't give it to any other newsmen. And in a sense, you're denying access, in a situation that was pretty new to you. That is, and that's an interesting, it used to be, I guess, if you paid the source, then the source was tainted. And I can't believe that person, but now it seems to be the way things are done. Somewhat universal. We know, for example, and I always been, I've had a young reporter working with me, and I remember Bob Barthood worked with me for many, many years, and we had sat down and discussed it, and there was very specific
unnewsmen staying away from grand juries. You can go to jail for it. It's one good reason, but they're just that you have no right to tamper with or get involved. The grand jury is a very important, specific part of our court system, justice system. And yet, to this day, now you still find media people trying to play around with the grand juries, and that's almost unpardonable. Yes, yes. Of course, the grand juries, when you and I started out, they were secret, and there wasn't, not a word was breathed about what occurred in the grand juries. Over the years, there's been a lifting of that veil of secrecy through the legislative process, through court rules, and more and more information is coming out about what occurred in the grand jury. I think that's part of the equation here, that sort of thing, and the willingness of people to talk, and there's no reason not to talk,
I guess, and then the possibility in a high profile case of being paid for your information. I have this story I've often told about campaigning when Justice Erwin Maurice had been appointed, I think, back in 1959, 58, and a signable also. And I remember Mrs. Maurice, who's just a love and a good viewer of this show, but she had mentioned it at the time. She said, Erwin seems to think it's not dignified for a chief justice or justice of the court to go on and ask for votes. And I said, you don't have to. No one said, you're not going to get elected. That's right. But in the next day, I remember I was on the campaign trail with him, and it was, you know, hi, I'm Erwin Maurice, I'm on the Supreme Court, I need you vote. The new system of giving approval to judges, how do you think that's working in? We've just had our third round of retention elections, and this clearly was the most contentious round. And to tell you the truth, I think the jury's out on whether it works
or it doesn't work. And just came across my desk, a law review article in the Florida law review, comparing the two systems. And I haven't had a chance to read it, but from a scholarly point of view, I'm going to be interested to see how it works. This is my 11th election. And this is my first retention election, and I had run in partisan elections before, or had not had an opponent. That's the best kind of election when you don't have an opponent. That's what I hear. Yes. But I found it very difficult in a retention election to really address what was on the people's mind, because you don't know, there's not, there's not somebody on the other side, a point counterpoint to raise the issues. It's a spook opponent. That's right. There's no one out there, a fan of a point. And there was some organized opposition against some or all of the judges. And so I think the judges were very, very
nervous. And then having to get 57%, this is the first time. And we lost a couple of judges under that. But I think what we really have to do, and we've got a pilot project going now, is we need to get some information, some unbiased information to the public about how the judges are performing. And we've had this pilot project down to the second and the fifth. And we hope to get it statewide. And this is nothing that's unique to New Mexico and Colorado, our neighborhood of the North does this all the time with every election. Where there's a commission that studies how the judge is doing, asks people who have been litigants, who are lawyers, who are jurors, expert witnesses, anybody who'd gone to that person's court. And then that information is made public. And there's a recommendation that that person should be retained or not retained. And I think the public really needs that kind of information to make informed judgments. And that's just something coming out of it. Not just to like to get rid of all the judges.
Obviously all of them would be chaos if all the judges have been turned out. And but each judge needs to be viewed on his or her own merit. And that's hopefully what we'd address with that. So that moves along. I like to stay on top of it with you. And good luck on your state of the judiciary message this year. I'm Ernie Mills and I guess today the Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, Joseph F. Baca. I'd like to thank you for being with us and report from Santa Fe. Report from Santa Fe is made possible in part by grants from U.S. West, providing advanced telecommunication services to New Mexico homes and businesses, and by New Mexico Tech on the frontier of science and engineering education. For Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees, New Mexico Tech is the college you've been looking for, 1-800-428-TECH.
Report from Santa Fe
Joseph F. Baca
Producing Organization
KENW-TV (Television station : Portales, N.M.)
Contributing Organization
KENW-TV (Portales, New Mexico)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip-914ee983340).
Episode Description
On this episode of Report from Santa Fe, host Ernie Mills interviews Chief Justice Joseph F. Baca from the New Mexico Supreme Court. Baca discusses the dynamics of the New Mexico judicial system and the chronic lack of funding for this branch of government. Guests: Ernie Mills (Host), Joseph F. Baca.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
Talk Show
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: KENW-TV (Television station : Portales, N.M.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: cpb-aacip-91058d68f37 (Filename)
Format: DVD
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Report from Santa Fe; Joseph F. Baca,” 1996-12-21, KENW-TV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 22, 2024,
MLA: “Report from Santa Fe; Joseph F. Baca.” 1996-12-21. KENW-TV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 22, 2024. <>.
APA: Report from Santa Fe; Joseph F. Baca. Boston, MA: KENW-TV, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from