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

Crossed lines

Magistrate judge candidates trade barbs at radio forum


October 28, 2018

David Grieder

Candidates for Dist. 63 representative, Clovis' Division 1 magistrate judge, and Curry County's assessor and clerk positions were among those at Tuesday night's radio forum.

CLOVIS — It was a largely straightforward, even convivial public discussion among local political office aspirants during Tuesday night's radio forum in Clovis.

Then came the closing statements, when the magistrate judge candidates said their families were being attacked.

Both Jane Marie Vander Dussen and Nicole Roybal, the respective Republican and Democratic candidates for Division 1's magistrate judge seat, told The News they felt lines were crossed into dirty politics just two weeks before election day, at the close of the first political campaign by either.

"I just want to say I think it's really disrespectful to go after someone's family for their hard work and success in this community," Vander Dussen said in a rebuttal to Roybal's closing statement during the forum at KTQM. "You personally attacked my family just now."

The attack? Roybal's remark that as a judge she would "treat every citizen with respect, regardless of family name or bank accounts."

Vander Dussen said her opponent did something similar in a recent interview with The News, when Roybal said she'd heard concerns from citizens about "large money continuing to run Clovis."

Vander Dussen also asserted Roybal knew what she was doing during the closing remark, which she characterized as personal in spite of its absence of names or specific identifiers.

"If you grew up in this area, you would definitely understand where her statement would come into play," Vander Dussen told The News. "My family has worked very hard for what they have and their success, and to go after that because she has nothing negative on me is just inappropriate and wrong. My family has nothing to do with this political race. It should be between her and I."

But Roybal said her remarks in the forum and the interview were general ones, and part of a point she has emphasized since before the primary: equal treatment before the law. She also said Vander Dussen had utilized the same tactics she would otherwise condemn, referring to a question earlier in the forum that she felt referenced a decades-old criminal conviction in her family.

"If you had a spouse convicted of a felony, how would this affect you?" moderator Grant McGee read from a submitted question. "How would this possibly affect any decisions you might make from the bench in terms of other adjudications? This writer would like reassurance that this lifestyle is behind them, if there was such a thing, considering their relationship..."

Vander Dussen replied that the question was not relevant to her, since her spouse had no such convictions.

Roybal said she also felt the question was not relevant, since "magistrate judges have no jurisdiction to determine sentencing on felony cases anyway." Moreover, she felt the question was "uncalled for.

"I'm a little bit disappointed in the question," Roybal said. "I will say that I have a family member, somebody that I love very much, who may have made a mistake when he was a teenager, but he is an upstanding citizen. ... and I can assure you that my family is a great family."

Vander Dussen told The News she didn't know anything about that question being submitted. Whatever its provenance, her opponent still thought the question a low blow.

"I feel like what happened (Tuesday) night was a personal attack on my family member for something that occurred approximately two decades ago," Roybal said. "This person has completely turned their life around and became a productive member of society. That's a reason why I am so passionate about educating young people and teenagers about the law..."

And Roybal echoed the same point Vander Dussen had made in a phone interview Wednesday.

"Since they cannot attack my qualifications, they attacked my family," she said. "On a side note, my closing statement was a general statement and no attack on her family whatsoever."

Throughout the forum, both candidates emphasized their experience (nine years for Vander Dussen with the district attorney's victim advocate program, and 13 years for Roybal working for local attorneys) and maintained they were the most qualified for the position. Vander Dussen cited her bachelor's degree in criminal justice and master's degree in social work (the position requires nothing more than a high school diploma), while Roybal cited her years with the Teen Court program that her mother founded.

Vander Dussen had the last word in the rebuttals; Roybal told The News she wasn't going to keep at it that night.

"I'm not going to do this back and forth," she said. "I do not want to fight her. I have been running a clean campaign and I intend to end on a clean campaign."

Both candidates attended Tuesday's forum with their spouses. Their discussion occupied much of the evening, as candidates in two other races were not present or came late.


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