It's Democrat Monica Zamora versus Republican Miles Hanisee
Two friendly but intense rivals are competing for a seat on the New Mexico Court of Appeals in the fall election.
Democrat M. Monica Zamora of Albuquerque, a district judge in the Children’s Court Division, faces Republican J. Miles Hanisee, the incumbent by appointment.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez named Hanisee to the Court of Appeals in July 2011. He succeeded Robert Robles, who retired after being convicted of drunken driving. Zamora also sought the appointment.
Hanisee, 44, went to the bench with experience as a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a law clerk for two federal judges.
While an assistant U.S. attorney from 1996 to 2007, Hanisee won an appeal so a defendant’s seven prior drunken-driving convictions could be introduced in an eighth case — a fatal crash in San Juan County. Another time he won a conviction in a cold murder case, revived through DNA evidence, in which the victim was a 16-year-old girl.
As a defense lawyer, Hanisee played a role in one of New Mexico’s notorious public corruption cases.
He helped represent former state senator Manny Aragon, a Democrat, who pleaded guilty in 2008 to three felonies in a scheme to defraud the state of nearly $4.4 million. Aragon is serving a 5 1/2-year sentence in federal prison.
“I think it was a fair deal,” Hanisee said in summing up the plea bargain. Of defense work, he said, “People don’t hire lawyers in good times of their life.”
But defending the accused is a necessary part of the system, and it broadened his legal experience, Hanisee said.
Zamora, 50, says she likes Hanisee and is on friendly terms with him. But based on professional experience, she said, she bests him.
Zamora’s father was a judge, and two of her brothers are attorneys. The law was part of everyday discussions in her home growing up.
She worked for 18 years as an attorney, handling civil cases that included representation of the state police. In another part of her practice, she helped about 500 families adopt children.
Then-governor Bill Richardson appointed Zamora as a district judge in 2005. She said her assignment in Children’s Court expanded her experience to include criminal matters. Her docket includes juvenile delinquency cases.
Other parts of her caseload are adoptions, abuse and neglect matters and termination of parental rights.
Zamora, like all district judges in New Mexico, works without a law clerk. She must do all her own research and writing, a heavy load that she said had given her the complete set of skills for the Court of Appeals.
Judges on the appellate court are staffed better. All have a law clerk and paralegal to help them research cases.
Zamora said she would bring a new and necessary perspective to the state Court of Appeals.
She said none of the 10 judges has a background in juvenile justice or children’s legal issues. Zamora said her expertise would help move along children’s cases that now can take two years to be heard.
Hanisee brushed aside her claim as self-serving.
“There is no lack of people on the court interested in children’s issues,” he said
As for the politics of this election, Democrat versus Republican, Hanisee said they should not matter. He said he would like to see judicial races be nonpartisan.
Still, he has been a financial contributor to his party. Hanisee donated $1,300 to Martinez when she was running for governor. Before his appointment to the bench, he gave $750 to her Susana Political Action Committee.
In his own race for the appeals court, Hanisee opted for public financing, a system intended to prevent political influence on candidates for judgeships. Hanisee has received $179,629, according to state election records.
Zamora is accepting money from private contributors for her campaign. She had $157,215, but reported all but about $25,000 had been spent.
She won a Democratic primary election in June. Hanisee had an easier road to the fall election, as he had no opposition for the Republican nomination.
Zamora said public financing of judicial candidates has drawbacks that make it imperfect. New Mexico is a poor state, and certain voters are uncomfortable with their tax dollars going toward candidates they do not support or believe in, she said.
She said she was scrupulous about not reading or checking her list of political donors. That way there is no possibility of her knowing who contributed to her election campaign, and no possibility that she would be influenced by them.
Before the primary, she received contributions from more than 110 attorneys and law firms, by far her largest bloc of donors.
As for Hanisee, he said partisanship is behind him.
“The last thing I am as a judge is a member of a political party,” he said.
In one case on the appeals court, Hanisee was part of a three-judge panel that voted to overturn a conviction obtained by Martinez’s staff when she was district attorney of Dona Ana County.
He joined with the other judges in reversing the conviction of Michael Vento, found guilty by a jury of running a commercial gambling operation at his Internet café in Las Cruces.
Vento said he merely offered a sweepstakes promotion similar to those of McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, not gambling.
The case received no publicity on appeal, and Hanisee did not mention it when interviewed about decisions he was involved in during his first 14 months on the court.
J. Miles Hanisee
Occupation — Judge on the state Court of Appeals.
Residence — Albuquerque
Age — 44
Education — Bachelor’s degree in English, Louisiana State University. Law degree, Pepperdine University.
Family — Married with 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.
M. Monica Zamora
Occupation — State district judge.
Residence — Albuquerque
Age — 50
Education — Bachelor’s degree in business administration, Fort Lewis College. Law degree, University of New Mexico.
Family — Married with two sons.