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Second Judicial District Court

Tribunal del Segundo Distrito Judicial

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For the third consecutive year, the Second Judicial District Court has organized a Giving Tree Project. The court has placed trees at three different locations:

  • The main courthouse, 400 Lomas Blvd NW;
  • The Juvenile Justice Center, 5100 2nd Street NW; and
  • The offices of the Judicial Diversion and Supervision Division, 401 Roma, NW.

These sites are collection points for items that will go to the four charitable organizations that are collaborating with the court for this year’s Giving Tree Project. Those charitable organizations are:

  • APS Title I Homeless Project, which is collecting toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, grooming supplies, etc.) for students through the age of 18;
  • New Mexico Veterans Integration Center, which is collecting clothing for veterans;
  • Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which is collecting clothing and toys for kids; and
  • Animal Humane New Mexico, which is collecting food, bedding, and other items for companion animals in need.

Members of the public may drop off non-cash donations (no gift cards either) at any of the court locations through December 19, 2018. Court officials will host a brief ceremony to hand over donations to the charities at 10:00 AM Thursday, December 20, 2018.

It started as a pilot program in Sandoval County District Court with one paid staff member assisted by a group of interns. Five years later, the Family Advocacy Program is a joint initiative of the Second and Thirteenth Judicial Districts and the Administrative Office of the Courts. It also has full paid staff in Sandoval, Valencia and Bernalillo Counties.
Along with this growth, the program is garnering recognition for outstanding work. This past August, the State Bar of New Mexico named it Outstanding Program for 2018. A month later, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the program a $7.7 million grant that will enable its expansion into San Juan and McKinley counties.
The Family Advocacy Program uses a multi-disciplinary team approach to representing parents in juvenile abuse/neglect proceedings.   
The team—consisting of an attorney, social worker and peer mentor—works to help the parents make the necessary changes to reunite with their children and maintain a stable, healthy lifestyle going forward.
Since its July 2013 inception, the program has supported 101 cases, involving 47 parents and 205 children. So far, 82 of those cases have been closed, with only four resulting in new cases being opened against the same parents.
Program director Dominica Sisneros-Montano, a licensed master social worker, said the program works because “we take the time to engage with clients as humans and do in-depth case management.”
That engagement includes social workers accompanying clients to court hearings and visits with their children. Program social workers also help clients fill out paperwork to get counseling or other services needed to make the lifestyle changes judges want to see before reuniting parents with their children.
“The quality of our work is intense,” Sisneros-Montano said. “We are helping people navigate the legal system and mentoring them so they can become better parents. The result is happier, more stable families, which is good for the entire state.”
The State Bar of New Mexico and the Department of Health and Human Services are not alone recognizing the program’s positive impact. The American Bar Association asked the program to develop a training model that courts in other jurisdictions can use to establish similar programs. In addition, the program’s social workers were invited to serve on the Steering Committee of the ABA’s National Alliance for Parent Representation, the only national legal organization dedicated to improving legal representation for parents in child welfare cases.
“All of this recognition is a result of our evidence-based practices and performance data,” Sisneros-Montano said. “We are showing fast time to family recovery, lower rates of termination of parental rights, and higher rates of guardianship.”
Court officials are excited about the program’s potential, especially in light of the federal grant. “In awarding this grant, the federal Department of Health and Human Services is recognizing the program’s success and expressing confidence that we can do even more to improve the health and well-being of more New Mexico families," said Marie Ward, presiding judge of the Second Judicial District’s Children’s Court Division.
“AOC hopes to take the program statewide if it continues to show success,” said AOC Director Artie Pepin. “The grant funding will permit courts to hire additional social workers and parent mentors to serve more clients, provide training and develop a database to help in evaluating how well the program is working.”


Court’s Family Advocacy Program Earns State Bar Award, New Federal Grant  - .PDF Version

A person experiencing a mental health crisis is more likely to be arrested than referred to treatment, and time in jail often worsens the mental health condition, according to research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
New Mexico Courts are taking concrete steps to address their communities’ mental health needs. The Third Judicial District Court launched an Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Program in partnership with Doña Ana County, with federal funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

Under the program, started in July 2017, a district court judge can order individuals involved in civil proceedings to participate in a structured treatment program developed by a local behavioral health provider. Court and county officials expect the program to reduce the number of people hospitalized or incarcerated due to mental health issues.
The Second Judicial District Court is teaming with the City of Albuquerque and UNM’s Health Psychiatric Center to pilot an AOT court.

In anticipation of a fall launch, a delegation from the District Court and the city recently traveled to Ohio to observe two established court-ordered outpatient treatment programs. “With New Mexico’s recent enactment of assisted outpatient treatment legislation, it is important that we have this opportunity to observe how other state courts have implemented court-ordered treatment programs,” said Second Judicial District Judge Beatrice Brickhouse.

“It was extremely helpful to observe both the court’s role in this process and the actual interactions between the judge and the participant,” said Ellen Braden, who manages the City of Albuquerque’s behavioral health and wellness division. “In Ohio, the judge’s engagement with the participants clearly supports the individual’s recovery.”   
 Hospital-Based Hearing Room  
The Twelfth Judicial District Court is taking an innovative approach to serving individuals with mental-health related issues.
In April of this year, judges in the Twelfth Judicial District began hearing cases in a hearing room housed inside the behavioral health wing of the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center in Alamogordo.
The judges participate in an alternating monthly schedule that has a judge conducting hearings at the hospital each week. The district’s four judges share in the rotation to help ensure the success of this model.  
The Gerald Chapman Regional Medical Center opened the behavioral health unit in Alamogordo in 2016. It provides in-patient services to individuals from around the state. Community, justice partner stakeholders and advocacy groups have joined forces to share ideas and find solutions for people with mental health-related issues.
The hospital-based hearing room is the latest of these ideas.
“The outcome has meant more efficient and timelier case resolution practices, as well as a more constructive and less disruptive judicial process for individuals who may be in need of a treatment guardian, involuntary commitment or a guardian/conservator appointment,” said Court Executive Officer Katina Watson.


District Courts Tackling Mental Health Issues - .PDF Version

On September 17, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention met to sign the document they had spent the previous four months drafting.

That document, the U.S. Constitution, outlines the basic structure of our nation’s government. The first three articles of the constitution identify three co-equal branches of government with separate and distinct powers and responsibilities.

The Constitution outlines the separation of powers: the Legislative branch makes law; the Executive branch executes the law; and the Judicial branch interprets and applies the law.

September 17th of each year is designated Constitution Day in acknowledgement of the day our current government was formed. This year, as we mark the 231st anniversary of the Constitution’s signing, we should reflect on the true role of what is commonly referred as the third branch of government—the Judiciary.

The framers of the constitution sought to make the Judiciary an independent branch of government that could go about its work of interpreting laws and settling legal disputes without having to consult members of the other branches of government—or survey public opinion—before making decisions. The desire to keep the Judiciary free from such influences is why U.S. Supreme Court Justices—once appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate—serve life terms.

By contrast, State Court Judges do not serve life terms. They typically are elected to the bench and face retention elections every six years. Still, they are fair and impartial arbiters of the law, carrying out their duties without regard to political whim or popular opinion.

Differences between Branches of Government

Members of the executive and legislative branches, at both the federal and state levels, regularly interact with lobbyists and members of special interest groups. They also are likely to review public opinion polls and news stories when deciding what position to take on a particular law or policy. The members of those branches of government are elected to represent the public; they require public input to do that properly.

The Judiciary plays a different—but very important—role in our Constitutional form of government.

The Judiciary is not a political or representative branch of government. Its duty is to uphold the law, and make decisions in accordance with the law, even when those decisions go against popular opinion. Judges resolve disputes based on the law and the facts presented in individual cases.

The Judiciary also is the branch of government that protects the civil rights and liberties granted to all citizens within the Constitution. Part of that job is ensuring that the other branches of government recognize the limits of their powers.

Sometimes, making an unpopular decision will cause members of the public to label a judge a liberal or a conservative. In extreme cases, as we have seen recently in New Mexico, judges have been threatened with bodily harm by people who disagree with their decisions.

Judges know they are bound to follow the laws of the land—the U.S. and State Constitutions, as well as state and federal laws. They also must adhere to rules of court procedure and a judicial code of conduct, which strictly forbids letting personal feelings enter into their decision making.

William H. Rehnquist, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice stated: “A Judge is bound to decide each case fairly, in accord with the relevant facts and applicable law, even when the decision is not the one the home crowd wants.”

That is exactly how the framers of the Constitution expected judges to behave when they laid out the structure of our current form of government 231 years ago. The framers, in essence, charged the Judiciary with protecting our constitutional rights. We should remember that not just on Constitution Day, but every day.



Constitutional Day 2018 - .PDF Version

Cassie & Judge WardOne of the most recognizable faces at the Bernalillo County Juvenile Justice Center belongs to Cassie, a 6-year-old Labrador retriever.

Cassie interacts with families, especially those with children, who need her friendship. When a girl is called to testify about traumatic abuse or neglect, Cassie might sit at her feet to provide solace. Or Cassie might stay with a sobbing boy who has just been separated from his parents after being placed into protective custody.

"Cassie provides great comfort in the courtroom and gets smiles from everyone she meets when she is in the building," Children’s Court Judge Marie Ward said.  "She is a silent companion who has a way of removing the edge from very difficult situations."

Cassie has been a presence at the Juvenile Justice Center since late 2013. She is a specially-trained Courthouse CASA dog, a name that is derived from the acronym for Court Appointed Special Advocates.

Cassie was purchased using a grant by New Mexico Kids Matter, the CASA program in Albuquerque. CASA believes that every child who has been abused, neglected or is in foster care deserves to have a dedicated volunteer advocate speaking up for them in court.

"We are very fortunate to have Cassie, both as a resource and as a friend," Judge Ward said.  "She brings a lift to everyone she meets and she is especially valuable to the children who need her most."

Cassie was trained by Assistance Dogs of the West, a Santa Fe-based accredited service dog organization that also provides service dogs for the Veterans Court program. Courthouse dogs have been used around the country since 2003.

For more information about CASA please visit

​Archived News

Youth Art Brightens Children’s Court

A new art collection proudly featuring work by youth artists has become an integral part of the Second Judicial District Court Children’s Court.  The SJDC Children’s Court Second Floor Hallway is now the permanent home to the “The Botanical Studies Project”. The project is a collaboration between youth artists at the Youth Services Center and Bernalillo County Public Art Project Coordinator Nan Masland.

“The youth art displayed at the Children’s Court serves to enrich the community, offers children hope and helps to provide an engaging and friendly environment,” said John Romero, Presiding Judge of Children’s Court. 

Drawing inspiration from Georgia O’Keefe, the youth studied images of local flora and translated them into “larger-than-life” portraits of flowers and plants.  Using tissue paper and glue, the artists added layers of color to create the images.  The final works were on display for a few months in an exhibit hosted by Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins at One Civic Plaza on the Tenth floor in the Bernalillo County Manager’s Suite. 

The youth artists donated their work to the Betty Sabo Inventory. The artwork in the inventory is funded by methods other than the 1% for the Arts.  Pieces in the inventory may be located in semi-public locations such as governmental offices, clinic waiting rooms, and courtrooms. 

Participating artists include:

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