Monday, March 22, 2010

Innocent Until Found Guilty?

Today in an article published by the Albuquerque Journal a claim was made that Appeal Court Judge Candidate Dennis Montoya maybe guilty of ethics violations. It appears that this is not the first time he has had problems with ethics issues when dealing with clients.

This is a sad occurrence since Mr. Montoya is our first candidate to run on public funding. At present Mr. Montoya has not been found guilty of any ethics violation since the case is still under investigation. Mr. Montoya did say that he is innocent of any claims when asked about the complaint filed against him by his opponent.

In New Mexico we have a system where any judicial candidate is reviewed by a panel appointed by lawyers and politicians to review their legal and personal history to see if they are qualified to sit on the bench. After being appointed by the governor candidates are then required to run in a partisan race which further investigates any candidate by the voting public but if not selected by the panel then the candidates are not required to go through any system or process of review before being allowed to run for office against the appointed candidate.

The purpose of this two part system is to keep our court system open and honest along with answerable to the voting public of both parties. Those future judges will of course be required to sit in judgment of the public who voted them into office. Our legal system is a public one and we value that in our country. We want judges that are honest, ethical and who do not feel that they are somehow better then the people they serve or sit in judgment of everyday of the week.

Perhaps the requirements for a judicial candidate should be looked at in the future to require lawyers that want to run for office not to be under current investigation or found guilty of any serious ethics violations since ethics is a real and serious issue in our state when it comes to both parties.

Any complaints filed against a lawyer at present are not made public so voters do not have the ability or opportunity to look into what if any problems a candidate might have had in the past. The only reason this complaint came to light was due to a lawsuit filed by the lawyer’s client.

The current system was created to protect innocent lawyers from being unduly harmed by unfounded ethics claims but it does appear to hinder the public interest when someone runs for a public office. Perhaps in the future those complaints should be made public if a lawyer does decide to run for a public office since by the very act of declaring they agree to a serious review by the voting public of their character.