The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Candidate Q&As: Roosevelt County Magistrate Judge

 


Michelle Bargas, Christopher Mitchell, Jimmy Parrish and James Southard — all Republicans — are seeking a four-year term as Roosevelt County magistrate judge.

The incumbent, Linda Short, is not running for another term.

Candidates were given the same questions, and asked to answer them on the spot.

Absentee voting begins today and will take place Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until June 1 and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 2 at the Roosevelt County Courthouse.

Early voting will be available at the Memorial Building from May 19 to June 2, Tuesday through Friday from noon to 8 a.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Tuesday at 5 p.m. is the deadline to register to vote in the primary election.

The primary is June 5.

The salary for magistrate judge in Roosevelt County is $84,344.

Michelle Bargas, 47, is a head start lead teacher at Eastern Plains Community Action Agency. She has been the Roosevelt County probate judge since 2017.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

Summarizing the understanding for the position of magistrate is community involvement, good character, making good judgments and listening to the public.

What professional experience, or otherwise, have you had that you feel qualifies you for this position?

My educational background — double major in criminal justice and psychology — my 10 years of employment with the state of New Mexico working with the court system, and understanding legal terms.

Within my first term year (as Portales probate judge), I’m already the vice chairman of our affiliate.

I have the motivation, the passion, the ambition to be fair and to support Roosevelt County. It comes from my heart.

Have you ever been arrested and/or charged with a crime? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

I have had a DWI way back in my past (2000). The details were very educational. It was a standard DWI. Now there are more stricter law requirements because of the increased numbers in the state of New Mexico for driving and drinking, and back then there wasn’t any. It was also a very good impact in my life to show me what I do not want to do.

That’s a good life experience that I can attribute to being a fair judge in the courtroom, because I have been through it.

It was the one time that I think I ever felt like I disappointed my parents, so it phased me. It really hit me hard. I was a single mom. Andrea Reeb was one of the (prosecutors). She wasn’t in charge, but she was one of them, I think, at the time in 2000, and I remember her saying to me, “I’m going to set an example by you.’” That’s very impactful.

I made up my mind at that time to prove to her that I’m not gonna be a repeat offender, I’m not gonna do this again. It was a lesson learned.

That happened in 2000. By 2004, I graduated with my associate’s degree from Clovis Community College. Within one year, I was able to complete my double major with Eastern New Mexico University. I graduated in May 2005.

I was employed by the state of New Mexico by August of 2005, where I was hired as a juvenile probation and parole officer for Union County.

I pleaded guilty to the DWI. I got probation. I did all the major requirements. They made you do counseling, you get probation, you have to do the DWI program. They did the drug screening to see if you need additional services; I didn’t, I just needed to complete the minimal court requirements, as long as I did not get into any other further trouble.

Have you ever been involved in a civil lawsuit, either as plaintiff or defendant? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

I have been on the low income end of that, where I got behind on some bills, and that was right when I had just got hired with the state (2005). When you relocate and you move and when you’re getting things re-established, you work really hard to try to stay above water.

Apparently one of the bills fell through the cracks and they filed a civil suit against me. That’s another educational one: You know the process, you know what you need to do to take care of it, be responsible, make agreements and pay it.

I made payment arrangements, and the judge was more than willing to work with me because there was no excuses.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

I would say that my relationship with local law enforcement is really good. I grew up knowing them or graduating with them. They’re friends. I’m friends with them, comfortable with them, I have no issues with any of them. When I moved back, I was very proud of them. When you go to school and you remember your friends in high school and now you see them, they’re either DAs or sheriffs.

I rode the bus with (Roosevelt County Sheriff) Malin Parker. I was best friends with (Roosevelt County sheriff candidate) Darrell Chenault’s wife in high school. Me and my sister would always go ask to stay at her family’s house. Darrell and his brother Darwin, I’ve always thought the world of. They’re good guys.

Do you have any professional or personal relationships or history that might result in potential for conflicts of interest if you’re elected magistrate judge?

No, I do not have any.

Why do you want this job?

This is the job that when you are young and you look up to somebody and say, “I would want to do what he does every day when I grow up.”

My mom worked for the magistrate judge and retired with the state, and so I would always be that little girl going over there and visiting my mom at work.

Just growing up, visiting my mother at work, and knowing that that is the job that I always admired, and when I finally wanted to make a career, I went into criminal justice and psychology and started with juvenile probation, first with the passion to help kids.

And when I returned home, and hearing that Linda Short was retiring, I knew then that this was what I wanted to do.

Christopher Mitchell, 44, is a detective with the Portales Police Department. He served in the United States Air Force from 1991 to 2013.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

Simply put, responsible for overseeing torts, civil claims, real property claims — I believe that’s up to $10,000. Obviously, you’re gonna see criminal cases. That’s a multi-aspect thing. It’ll be whether it’s through arraignments, initial appearance, preliminary hearings, especially as things are bound over to the district court.

The clearest job description: Someone who will be responsible and take on the load and take care of people as they travel through the process legally inside that court. That’s really what it comes down to.

What professional experience, or otherwise, have you had that you feel qualifies you for this position?

I’ve been working hand in hand with magistrates since 2005 is really what it comes down to, because I entered law enforcement in 2004. It’s funny, my actual first magistrate lives in this town. At the time, it was out in California. Small world. I don’t want to name him by name, but he’s clearly someone I respect.

Lifelong experience from really early 2005, because my first post was December of 2004 after training, and I took a couple of weeks off.

Aside from working hand in hand with magistrates, working criminal cases especially, working with attorneys, working inside the system. When I say attorneys, I mean attorneys on both sides.

I’ve written warrants, I’ve dealt with suspects, I’ve dealt with victims, witnesses, and I’ve earned the people’s trust thus far with their neighbors, their families, their children.

I’ve had the luxury of mentors with 30 years law enforcement. I’ve had the privilege of some just phenomenal, phenomenal folks that are in the law enforcement community, whether they be a 19-year district attorney, whether they be a 30-year veteran police officer, that sort of thing.

Since we’re still talking about experience, I’ve had the opportunity to run detachments and be responsible for all operations in those detachments, both here at home and abroad. It’s given me a unique perspective to work through the law in multiple levels, whether it be municipal all the way up through federal, and of course, into a brief year dealing with international.

Have you ever been arrested and/or charged with a crime? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

No. I hate to be boring.

Have you ever been involved in a civil lawsuit, either as plaintiff or defendant? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

I was named in a tort as the superintendent of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations detachment here, but that’s something that happens when you’re in law enforcement. I was the boss of the person actually being sued, but that’s how it works. Just like, for example, when you see torts out here, they start out at the officer involved, and then they work up through the chief, and then the mayor, and then it goes all the way up to the governor, because the big tree has the big money.

I never saw it after the original letter, but I have to be honest. The rule is simple: “We succeed, I fail.” Yes, the person worked for me, but I knew what was going on, just because someone doesn’t like what you did, they have a right to sue you. It doesn’t mean they’re right. You wish them well and move on.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

I can tell you I’m currently employed by the city of Portales. I have to be really careful about that.

Do you have any professional or personal relationships or history that might result in potential for conflicts of interest if you’re elected magistrate judge?

The short answer is no, but there will be things, like for example, if elected, the people decide that I’m the one for them. There will be a limit on what I can see at the very beginning. Any criminal case that I’ve seen before the date, I’ll have to recuse myself from. Anything that would come through, I wouldn’t be able to see. It’s not that I have relationships, because I don’t, but at the end of the day, I want to make sure you understand that: It’s not that I have the relationships. It’s I cannot see any case that I have knowledge of prior to taking the position.

The answer is yes, and yet, no, because it’s not a personal relationship and things like that. I wouldn’t be able to see any case that involves an officer that I work with now. I can see one of their cases later, but if they were involved in a case — say they were a victim of a crime — I couldn’t see that because of our relationship now.

Why do you want this job?

I can sum that up super easy. I want this job to elevate my service. I want to expand the service that I already have because, as a police officer, I help a finite group of people. As a magistrate, I get to expand that out through all aspects of what that court gets to see, whether it be criminal with DWIs, with tickets, with arraignments, with preliminary hearings, bond hearings, things like that. But I also get to see the civil side, and I get to really expand the service that I have now, and I love that.

Jimmy Parrish, 70, is a retired loan officer and credit analyst. He served on the Roosevelt County Commission from 1984 to 1988 and 1989 to 1997.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

It would be to handle DUI cases, some could be drug-related cases, speeding tickets, and there’s probably gonna be a lot of speeding tickets. From what I’ve understood from talking to various judges, you handle landlord disputes between tenants and the landlords, any cases up to monetary values of $10,000.

What professional experience, or otherwise, have you had that you feel qualifies you for this position?

The public office is mainly about serving people, and I served Roosevelt County for 12 years in the capacity of being a Roosevelt County commissioner. I feel like that gives me some experience as well as mileage in meeting a lot of the great people in that capacity. I have a bachelor of business administration degree, it’s an ag business degree.

I’ve worked in the banking business. I’ve worked in farming and ranching loans. I’m familiar with agriculture, I shouldn’t say as good as anybody, but I’d say on the same level.

It’s about assisting people in this job. Whatever the law says is basically what it is, except I think there are times when you have to really look at what the statute is, whatever the charge is, numerous things, two of them being that you’re dealing with lives and you’re dealing with monies.

Have you ever been arrested and/or charged with a crime? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

No, sir.

Have you ever been involved in a civil lawsuit, either as plaintiff or defendant? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

No.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

I know some of the deputies, I know the chief of police, I know some of the state police. I’ve worked with outside agencies over the years — that includes the attorney general’s office in the state of Texas. I’ve worked with New Mexico Department of Public Safety over the years. I’ve worked with some of the federal authorities. I still have those relationships to this day.

Do you have any professional or personal relationships or history that might result in potential for conflicts of interest if you’re elected magistrate judge?

No. Let me add to that. My wife and I decided our campaign was gonna be run on a budget that she and I put together. I am funding my own campaign along with my wife. I have no conflict of interest with any corporations, local companies, no ties whatsoever. I’m friends with some of these people, but I have taken no monies from anyone. No monies.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. That’s my choice and my wife’s choice.

Why do you want this job?

I’m still able to do things. I still want to serve the public. I was in a situation where I didn’t want to have a conflict of interest when I was working for a big corporation — it was a financial institution — and so, we as employees had to be very careful about what we did. In other words, if I continued to want to be a county commissioner years ago, then I would have had to give up any political affiliation. I couldn’t do a lot of things, so I gave that up to go to work for a financial institution.

James Southard, 35, is a rancher south of Elida. He is a former school teacher.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

To me, the magistrate is a court that’s a people’s court. It’s not a court of record, and it’s a court of limited jurisdiction. It handles civil cases up to $10,000, landlord-tenant cases, felony, DWI and other traffic citations, and of course they sign off on search warrants and arrest warrants and conduct jury trials with a six-member jury.

As far as myself, I think I’d be good for the job because I have a firm belief in taking responsibility for my own actions, and I have no connection to any group that would cause me to have a bias or have to recuse myself from cases, unless it had to do with a family member.

I’m fair-minded, and I’m a calm, patient person, I have respect for others, and I have a solid work ethic and I try to work well with others. That’s kind of my understanding of the job description.

What professional experience, or otherwise, have you had that you feel qualifies you for this position?

I was a school teacher for 10 years and I’ve worked with kids and had to manage different personalities. I ran my own business. I ran a cattle ranch of my granddad’s while I was teaching school, and that’s what I’m currently doing now, so I think all of those experiences have kind of prepared me for the job — working with people and being out and about and doing other businesses.

I have a little bit of understanding of the other problems the trucking industry might have, which we have a lot of around here. I understand the farmers and the ranchers, and then I understand some of the terrible things that kids can go through just by hearing their life experiences by having them in class and talking to them. You hear some pretty horrible stories, and that’s what kind of makes me want to do the job: I want to be there for people, and be an impartial person and be able to help people with their problems and help them to solve them and help make our county a better place for people to live.

Have you ever been arrested and/or charged with a crime? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

I have never been arrested in my life.

Have you ever been involved in a civil lawsuit, either as plaintiff or defendant? If so, when, what were the details and what was the disposition?

No, sir.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

I have several friends that are on the sheriff’s department and whatnot, but as far as a relationship with them, I do not have one, because I’ve never had to deal with them.

If I was to get elected, I’d work with them and stand behind them and support them and help them to be able to do their job as best as they can, but as far as an actual relationship, I do not have one with them.

I think that makes me an impartial person, because the magistrate’s supposed to be sort of the buffer between the enforcement and the accused.

Do you have any professional or personal relationships or history that might result in potential for conflicts of interest if you’re elected magistrate judge?

I don’t believe I do. Like I said, I don’t have a lot of dealings with the law enforcement and stuff, so I have no personal conflicts with them, so nothing on that side.

Yes, I have some kinfolks around, and they might get a speeding ticket or anything like that, and in that case, if I had to see them I’d have to get somebody else to do it, because I wouldn’t feel right.

As far as any group, no.

Why do you want this job?

I want this job because I want to work with people and I want to help them, and I think I’d be good at it because I’m a calm person by nature, I respect others, I try to maintain an open mind, and I think I have the ability to put aside my personal beliefs to remain impartial, to make whatever ruling and take any evidence that’s presented to me, and still be impartial as to making whatever decision it might be, whether it be civil, landlord, anything like that.

I just want to be able to help make a difference in our community, and I think the magistrate is a challenging place, because most of the time nobody’s happy to be in there. You may rule on a civil case and the other party may be happy when you give them the ruling, but it’s your job just to be fair and help them to work through it the best you can and make the best out of a bad situation. I want to be able to help the people.

— Compiled by Staff Writer Eamon Scarbrough

 

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