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

By Jamie Cushman
Staff writer 

Candidate Q&As: Curry County Magistrate Judge, Division 2

 


CLOVIS — Shaun Burns, Sean Martinez, Donald Sawyer and Stephen Whittington — all Republicans — are seeking a four-year term as Curry County magistrate judge for Division 2.

The incumbent, Richard Hollis, is not running for another term.

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

Absentee voting began Tuesday and will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until June 1 and June 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 a.m. at the Curry County Administrative Complex.

Early voting begins May 19 and will be available Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the North Plains Mall - Police Substation.

Election day is June 5.

The annual salary for the magistrate judge position is $89,907.79.

Shaun Burns is a lawyer and Clovis native.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

Magistrate judges sign search warrants and other arrest warrants along with district court judges.

Magistrate judges hold the first hearings on bail for people charged with crimes and the magistrate judges make the first decisions on whether someone is held without bail or the amount of bail they have to post or whether they're let out into the community without posting bail at all.

Magistrate judges also handle civil cases such as rent disputes and contract disputes up to $10,000 in dispute.

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

I'm the only candidate in either district who is a lawyer. I've been a lawyer for 42 years, the last 20 years in Clovis representing real people, not large companies.

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

Several years ago I got a speeding ticket on the highway between Vaughn and Clines Corners. The location of the court to pay the fine was in Moriarty.

I mailed in a check for what I thought was the fine for the speeding ticket but apparently my check was not enough. I had moved my office to a new address several years before and the post office forwarding order had expired.

I did not realize that my driver's license still had my old address. I did not get the mailed notices from the court in Moriarty telling me that I still owed money on a speeding ticket.

Two years later after I had forgotten about it, I was stopped in Clovis for not having a taillight on a lawnmower trailer I was pulling. The old speeding ticket popped up and it took an hour at the police station to clear it up but I simply paid the rest of the fine and everything was satisfied.

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?

The only civil lawsuits that I've been involved in are cases where in years past I have sued clients because they haven't paid their bills. I don't recall any other civil cases where I've been a plaintiff or a defendant.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

A good relationship. I understand the need and the abilities of the local law enforcement community. I think they do a wonderful job in protecting our citizens.

My most current experience is with the security the sheriff's office provides at the courthouse, which I think is exceptional. I have no relatives that are police officers, but I've always admired police officers and other law enforcement officials. They have a special role to play in our judicial system.

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?

First off I've refused to take any campaign contributions from anyone, even friends and family. You know I've been offered campaign contributions so I will have no conflict with anyone who provides me with a campaign contribution because I'm not accepting any such contributions. I paid for my entire campaign, all my signs, all my radio ads, out of my own pocket.

I also think that a judge should not have any strings or commitments to anyone so I have pledged not to handle any cases as a judge where lawyers who appear before me and I have represented the same clients when I was in private practice.

That's only going to cover two or three lawyers in town so I do not have any other potential conflicts of interest.

Why do you want this job?

I'm 68 years old, I've had a wonderful career as a lawyer, I think it's time for me to give back to the community. My family has been in Clovis for 110 years when my grandfather came here in 1908.

My father and his brother ran a business for 60 years in Clovis known as Burns Agency.

I was born and raised in Clovis, graduated Clovis High School. My wife and I enjoy Clovis. It's a wonderful community and I would enjoy the opportunity to give back to the community.

Donald Sawyer is a marriage and family mediator and retired from the Air Force.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

Well as far as being the judge I know that we hear cases that are supposed to be I believe less than $10,000. We hear misdemeanors, those type of cases that come to court or cases that have not been elevated to the district level yet.

Sometimes it might come under domestic violence or conflicts or disputes from folks with rental properties, those kind of things. So that's my understanding.

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

Well I've actually been a marriage and family mediator for the last 21 years. I've been a mediator now for 25 years.

When I was in the military I worked for the inspector general's office out at Cannon Air Force Base and working for that department I was chief of complaints and oversights.

And so while I was in that position I had the opportunity to handle complaints that sometimes dealt with other departments on base where people had problems.

But sometimes we had complaints against people's supervisors or commanders and so then we would have to actually do a full-blown investigation.

Now typically back then what would happen would be according to who the complaint was against, what level of command or rank, we would have to find somebody of equal rank to do that investigation.

So because it was a little difficult to find people to do the investigation, I had asked my boss at the time to become trained in mediation.

And so I got trained at Patrick Air Force Base back then in mediation and so one of the things I would do is I would allow people the opportunity to actually take the complaint to mediation as opposed to doing an investigation and I was pretty successful at mediating pretty much every complaint that they were willing to seek me out.

And so once I retired from the Air Force I went out to Eastern (New Mexico University) and I got my bachelor's degree in psychology and sociology and I was actually considering becoming a marriage counselor but because during that time I realized a lot of people were not into counseling and marriage counseling, since I was a mediator I decided to do marriage and family mediation and so for the last 21 years that's what I've done.

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

So yeah actually I have a daughter that's 36 years old now ... about 19 years ago she accused me of battery so she called the cops at that time. I retired in '97 so I believe this was 1999 and so what happened was she accused me of battery, (I) got arrested.

I basically told the police - at the time she was 17 years old - I told the police that they needed to remove her from my household because at the time I was a single parent and I had three children and the other two were going to actually be left here and so I told the police if you're going to take me in, then you need to remove her from my household.

And so they did arrest me, went to holding, bailed myself out probably within an hour or two and she actually went into foster care. Pretty much for five months she was in foster care and at the end of the five months when we were supposed to be going to court she calls up and says, "Hey, Dad I want to come home."

I told her, "Well if you want to come home you need to tell the truth." And when we went to court the next day she told the attorney for (the Child, Youth and Families Department) that "My dad did not strike me, I was the one that ..." she actually had cut herself underneath her eye.

They decided to say "We're going through this anyway.'' They felt like I had coerced her into giving the statement so we actually went to court, Judge (Robert) Brack was the judge at that time, and she actually got up in court and asked the judge could she speak to him.

He cleared the court, she told him what had happened and he called us back in, he dismissed the case and said that basically she had actually hurt herself, inflicted the wound on herself, and there was no battery on my part. Case was dismissed, she came back home and that was it until she decided to leave and move on with her 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 civil lawsuits.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

I'm actually a chaplain for the fire department and the police department and I've been a chaplain now for I believe the last five years. So I've been given the opportunity to do training for the fire department on marriage and family mediation.

I've been able to give just briefings to the police department on marriage and family mediation and so I believe my relationship with both departments are pretty strong.

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.

Why do you want this job?

Well actually 16 years ago I ran against Judge Hollis and I felt like being a mediator, you have the ability to look at things from different perspectives and a lot of times I feel like judges don't.

Sometimes because of the fact they're either law enforcement or because they're lawyers, they kind of have a perspective that they look at things from.

As a mediator what you're trying to do is you're trying to help people resolve a conflict or a dispute and for you to do that, you have to be able to look at it from both perspectives, take that information and be able to help both sides look at it from both perspectives.

Nine times out of 10 most people they look at things just from one perspective. However as a judge I think you need to be able to see it from each side and be able to make a decision.

Sean Martinez is a Clovis native with over 10 years experience with the Clovis Police Department.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

My understanding of the job description for magistrate judge consists of hearing both civil and criminal cases on a daily basis.

The criminal cases are brought forward by the district attorney's office in regards to cases that have been filed by law enforcement in regards to criminal acts that occurred within the city of Clovis and to weigh and measure whether probable cause is found for that case to be bound over to district court.

Of course prosecution and the defense both have opportunities to argue their case. In addition to that, civil cases, any type of civil litigation within the city of Clovis or Curry County between one party and another. Hearing those cases and making the best decision and determination under the law one way or the other.

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

I have more than 10 years of law enforcement experience on the front line. I have thousands of hours of training and experience working from start to finish cases that go before the local magistrate, testifying in both magistrate and district courts respectively.

I have been a patrol officer, detective and detective sergeant and as such I have worked and supervised thousands of cases within the city of Clovis. As a major crimes unit member, many of these cases were very high-profile cases including homicide, bank robberies and even the recent library shooting in 2017.

It's been my life goal for the past 10 years to ensure the safety and justice for the victims of these crimes and the citizens within the community.

As a previous law enforcement supervisor I was tasked with reviewing patrol officers' and detectives' cases, weighing and measuring whether or not probable cause was found prior to the case going before the local magistrate.

As such one of the primary tasks of the local magistrate is doing the same thing, hearing both sides from the prosecution and defense and determining whether probable cause exists for the case to be bound over to district court.

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

As an adult I've never been arrested or charged with a crime so there are no details or dispositions.

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?

In an official capacity as a law enforcement officer in 2012 I had been investigating a robbery incident that occurred here in the city of Clovis.

The suspect was identified, located and arrested; however, at a later date the initial victim in the incident made a statement that the individual who had been positively identified as the suspect and arrested was in fact not the same individual who had committed the robbery.

There was video footage of the individual, there was positive identification made of the individual and the individual was arrested; however, based on the victim's unwillingness to cooperate, the case was dismissed and the individual did file a civil tort claim against the New Mexico probation officer, myself and my supervisor and the disposition of the case was that it was settled.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

Serving as a police officer myself I have spent countless hours serving and defending the city.

I've spent thousands of hours investigating criminal activity and seeking justice for the citizens who are victims of property and violent crimes.

As the previous detective sergeant for the Clovis police department, major crimes unit member and investigator, I have recent firsthand experience with the criminal justice system.

I have served as case agent on many high-profile cases over the years and know the importance of a fair and impartial magistrate judge.

In addition as a previous investigator special agent for the district attorney's office, I've assisted the district attorney and assistant district attorneys in preparing cases to go to trial and seeing them through to completion and conviction seeking the highest penalty possible for violent offenders in order to keep our community safe.

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 have professional relationships with a number of law enforcement and citizens within the community, personal relationships. I don't believe that they would have the potential for conflict of interest if I am elected.

One of the areas of being a law enforcement officer over the years is you often times run into circumstances and situations that involve people you know and you can't let that get in the way of you making the best decision under the law going forward.

Having that experience for a number of years, I don't believe that any professional or personal relationships that I do have within the community would affect any decisions I would be able to make as magistrate judge.

As the city's hometown local magistrate judge, I will ensure the safety of the citizens by doing everything in my power under the law to keep violent offenders off the streets, thus preventing them the opportunity to re-offend, no matter who they are.

Why do you want this job?

It kind of goes back to what I said first. I was born and raised here. I have a heart for my hometown. My grandfather served as a mayor pro tem and city commissioner.

I've put a lot of thought and prayer into my decision to run for this position.

Some of the decisions made by police often require split-second reaction to the events going on around them. It will be nice to have the time allowed under the law in the security of the courtroom to take this into account and make the best judgment and ruling possible for both victims and alleged offenders alike.

Speaking to members of the community, one of the things they would like to see addressed by the current magistrate judge is jury duty. That's something that the members of the community often times are called to.

I believe the process for citizens required to serve could use some attention and probably some revamping in order to make it fair for the jurors, the attorneys, victims, the witnesses and the offenders all alike.

It's something I hear a lot of the citizens talk about often and I believe it needs to be addressed at the local level. As your magistrate judge I will do everything in my power under the law to ensure that process is smoothed out and sped up.

Stephen Whittington is a retired New Mexico State Police officer and a property developer.

Summarize your understanding of the job description for magistrate judge.

The magistrate court is the first step for misdemeanor traffic and criminal cases. They also handle civil cases like landlord-tenant disputes, but not cases over $10,000.

The judges are required to know and apply applicable statutes, the rules of evidence and the rules of court procedures.

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

I've served our citizens as a state police officer for 20 years and then served as a New Mexico Mounted Patrol officer for 18 years and I've been successful as a police officer, in private business, I'm a family man, a husband, a father. I have the experience and training and temperament to serve.

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

I've never been investigated, charged, arrested or convicted of a felony, a misdemeanor or a domestic violence situation of any kind either as a juvenile or an adult.

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?

In 1994 I filed a lawsuit against New Mexico State Police where I was the lead plaintiff and it lasted almost 15 years and I had another 150 state police officers join this lawsuit.

Basically in a nutshell we settled the lawsuit and what the outcome of it was is due to the lawsuit we increased the size of the New Mexico State Police to twice what we already had.

It was of tremendous benefit to the citizens of the state of New Mexico - additional state police officers out on the road.

What caused it to happen was it was an hourly wage dispute of the simplest kind. They were working state police officers nine hours a day and only paying us for eight.

By the time this went through the Supreme Court we ended up doubling the department in size, officers were paid for overtime, if you worked you got paid. We went from two shifts to three shifts.

The second one I was in involved the New Mexico Highway Department on an adverse condemnation where property of mine was seized without the proper authority and that one lasted five or six years also. That one actually went to trial and we were the victor, we won.

I had one just recently where I ended up suing the New Mexico Supreme Court and it was over electronic filing on lawsuits. Because the courts require a third-party person to collect fees and stuff, so basically in a nutshell your first and 14th amendments are being violated and if you have no money, you have no say. That went all the way to the appellate court in Denver.

I took over some properties in Tucumcari and I ended up being sued by a local contractor there and we took it to magistrate court and it was settled there. I took that over because my father had Alzheimer's and so that was the fairest and easiest way to settle.

My wife and I developed rental properties and subdivisions and of course there were cases where I was taking tenants to court, taking banks to court, that kind of thing, civil actions.

What is your relationship with local law enforcement?

I have been a state police officer and a New Mexico mounted patrolman for 38 years and I deal with law enforcement on a regular basis. I have an excellent working relationship with them.

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. But with that being said, I would like to say if I'm elected I'll move my law enforcement officer commission into an inactive status and I'll recuse myself from any case involving my son, who is in law enforcement.

Why do you want this job?

We as citizens owe a debt of gratitude to our retiring magistrate judges for their service. It is critical that the new judge have the highest degree of ethics and dedication to his duties in making decisions based on law and facts.

 

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