Thursday, August 25, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: TOUGHER QUESTIONS

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 25, 2005

After the criticism that Gov. Bill Richardson received for his appointment of former state police officer Tommy Rodella for Rio Arriba County Magistrate Judge earlier this year, the governor said he was going to get tougher on the selection process for judges.

At first the promise seemed rather empty. As documented in this column last month, some applicants for a Santa Fe County magistrate position described their interviews with Richardson as short and superficial.

Since then, Rodella resigned after criticism from Richardson over a drunken driving case Rodella had handled.

So now there’s a new application form for magistrate positions that shows Richardson at least is asking tougher questions than before.

Some of the questions on the form — which is available on the governor’s web site — seem to be directly inspired by Rodella — who had been investigated by state police for several alleged infractions, including using his influence as a cop to fix traffic tickets to garner political support for his wife, State Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-San Juan Pueblo.

Richardson and his staff claimed he was unaware of these problems until they hit the papers.

Among the new questions:

* “Is there any past or present conduct in your professional or personal life that creates a substantial question as to your qualifications to serve in the judicial position involved or which might interfere with your ability to so serve?”

*“Have you ever been terminated, disciplined, admonished, warned, reprimanded, sanctioned or otherwise punished for any conduct that occurred in your present or previous employment? If so, please explain the nature of the conduct and the result.”

*“To the best of your knowledge, have your ever been investigated by your present or previous employer for misconduct? If so, please explain the nature of the allegation(s) and the result.

Applicants are now asked to sign waiver forms giving up their rights to confidentiality for personnel records, including files related to disciplinary investigations.

The new form asks whether the applicant has been arrested or charged with any misdemeanor or felony other than a minor traffic offense. Separate questions ask about drunken driving charges and domestic violence offenses.

There’s a special question for lawyer applicants. “If you are an attorney, have you ever been the subject of a formal complaint or charged with any violation of any rules of professional conduct in any jurisdiction? If so, have you ever received any discipline, formal or informal, including an ‘Informal Admonition(?) If so, when, and please explain.”

There’s one for judges who apply: “If you have served as a judge, has any formal charge of a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct been filed against you, and if so, how was it resolved?”

One applicant for the position, former public defender Andrew O’Connor, said this week he thought the new questions were “intrusive” and possibly illegal.

O’Connor admitted he probably doesn’t have much of a chance of getting the appointment due to comments he made last month in this column after being rejected for the Santa Fe magistrate position. He said the only question the governor asked in the previous interview was “Is there anything in your past that would hurt me politically if I appoint you?”

Alien Nation: Did Richardson just have a “Sister Souljah moment”?

You remember Sister Souljah, don’t you? If so, it’s probably not for her music but for her coming under fire in 1992 by Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Clinton. The rapper had made a statement about “killing white people,” which candidate Clinton repudiated — even though the repudiation was repudiated by some Clinton allies like the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

On this week’s Latino USA syndicated radio show (heard locally on KUNM FM), Richardson -- talking about his recently declared state of emergency for our state's border with Mexico -- used the phrase “illegal alien” to describe undocumented immigrants.

Some Hispanic activists who those who work for immigration rights say that term is offensive. But those who favor a crackdown on people who enter the country illegally say the objection to the phrase is unbridled political correctness.

Richardson used the term at least twice on that show and once during his interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.

Maria Hinojosa of Latino USA called him on it, noting that this was the first time she’d ever heard him say “illegal aliens.”

Richardson responded, “ ... as a matter of frustration, I have, you know, started using ‘illegal aliens’ because I have seen how some of the traffic of these individuals in trucks and cars come into my state.”

He said human traffickers known as “coyotes” and “other crime-infested people” are hurting some of his constituents, including “many that are Hispanic.”

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