“You can’t fire me — because I quit!” was the old joke until it wasn’t. Now it’s “you can’t fire me — because you’re not the boss of me!”
The Honorable Luis Quintana of the Municipal Court of the Village of Corrales, New Mexico was disbarred a few months ago for not turning over a $4,500 workers compensation settlement check to his client. But because he says the professional conduct violation took place before he was elected judge, he maintains it has nothing to do with his ability to carry out his term. Thus, he says he’s not quitting his berobbed day job.
And besides, New Mexico municipal court judges don’t have to be lawyers so Judge Quintana contends he’s not disqualified — even if the state supreme court pulled his license. Law license? Not required to wear the muni. court robe — so he’s not going.
Non-lawyers can sit on the municipal court bench in New Mexico. The only qualifications are voter registration; being over 21 years of age, and current and continual city residence throughout the judicial term.
They have limited jurisdiction to dispense justice over petty criminal and traffic violations of the municipal code punishable by not more than 90 days in jail and/or a $500 fine and which occur within the municipality’s boundaries. They can also issue subpoenas and warrants to carry out court duties and exact punishment for contempt of court.
The bar complaint against lawyer Luis Quintana was filed in 2013 but in New Mexico, it appears disciplinary justice turns on wheels in a ditch full of prickly pear molasses. He was finally disbarred in July.
All the same, you’d think the New Mexico Supreme Court and its Judicial Standards Commission would have something more to say about it — even if the misconduct admittedly occurred before he became a judge. I’m unaware of a similar case in Arizona.
Justices of the peace here are elected. They don’t have to be lawyers. But I’ve not heard of an Arizona lawyer elected justice of the peace who subsequently gets disbarred for a lawyerly ethical violation but who nevertheless keeps his job on the bench. Then again most elected Justices of the Peace around here are non-lawyers and that might explain why it hasn’t come up. Moreover, they get removed when they run afoul of the code of conduct while in office.
Otherwise, my only recollection of an Arizona municipal court judge in hot water was a jurist in Tucson. But in that case, the Honorable Theodore Abrams who was also a lawyer didn’t tell the court or the state bar to ‘talk to the hand.’ Plus the ethical violations occurred while he was a judge not a prior act as a lawyer.
Judge Abrams resigned from the bench and stipulated to violating the Code of Judicial Conduct based on allegations of having repeatedly sexually harassed an assistant public defender for more than a year.
But because Judge Abrams resigned, the Arizona Supreme Court could only censure him and prohibit him from ever seeking or holding judicial office.
Meantime, back in the Village of Corrales, New Mexico, Judge Quintana remains nonplussed despite the now national notoriety. And because he’s an elected official and because he’s committed no malfeasance as a judge, the village council has no authority to remove him.
And while some residents and officials are increasingly restive, at least the mayor appears supportive. Judge Quintana told Mayor Scott Kominiak his disbarment was a private matter concerning his private law practice. So as far as Judge Quintana was concerned, it’s business as usual on the municipal bench. And Mayor Kominiak, whose post is not full-time, told the Albuquerque Journal, “The analogy is that if I were to lose my job, would I be required to resign as mayor?”
Ironically, when Judge Quintana ran for judicial office in 2008 in response to a question, he discussed access to the court. At that time, he cracked he would “always look for ways to make any improvements needed and create new programs to allow greater access (except when the villagers come after me with their torches).” Barring any torch-carrying villagers, his four-year term expires next year.
Photos: “Shawn Spears executes a standing dropkick on Pepper Parks, GCW, 16th September 2011” by Tabercil at Wikipedia Commons via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license; hiding from the paparazzi by The Shifted Librarian at Flickr Creative Commons non-commercial share-alike license, kid photos via Morguefile.com, no attribution license.