Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Committee Advocating Metro Court Excludes Hispanics and Rural Voters: Legislators Beware

Yesterday I received a copy of an email sent by what appears to be the League of Women Voters Metro Court Committee, the only source of visible support for a bill (HB 275) introduced by Rep. Joni Gutierrez, immediately creating a metro court for Dona Ana County.

What is astonishing in reviewing 53 persons on the list is the complete absence of a single Hispanic name. Moreover, there appears to be virtually no representation of persons living outside of Las Cruces, although nearly 55% of the population of the county lies outside the city.

What is wrong here is that in a county in which two out of three residents is Hispanic and 55% of the total population lives outside Las Cruces, the League of Women Voters would be so bold as to create a committee, purporting to represent the civic interests of the whole county, but in which the ethnic and geographic majorities are excluded. Clearly, the move to metro court has powerful implications for Hispanic citizens and for citizens living a distance from Las Cruces. And even more boldly, the League apparently feels comfortable trying to rush this bill through the legislature without even the pretense of sounding out public opinion in any sector of the population. The views of the 53 persons on the committee appear to be quite enough for everyone in the county, thank you.

Why the big rush to create a metro court here, right this minute? Existing legislation contemplates creating a metro court when the census indicates a county has reached a population of 200,000. This will happen one year from now when the census is taken, so why rush things before the entire community can be consulted about an important civic change? Does this bill represent any sector of the population except for the lawyers who would most assuredly benefit from it, and an all-Anglo committee of the League of Women Voters? Why was HB 275 introduced in the first place?

There is nothing magically "good" about moving to a metro court system. Anyone who wants an independent assessment of the metro court in Albuquerque (the only other metro court in New Mexico) after twenty years of operation should read the Soich Report, written by an employee of the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts for the Institute for Court Management, in May 2000. I have a copy in my possession and will make it available to anyone who wants to read it. I have already outlined my objections to metro court (and issued a disclaimer as well) in a blog I posted here yesterday (www://, and I would welcome a debate with anyone about the issue. Citizens should hear both sides of the issue: so far, this has not happened.

Legislators of New Mexico, let's be fair about this. Don't enact into law the views of a highly unrepresentative committee until Hispanic citizens and people living outside Las Cruces have a chance to respond. Before shoving a major change in our judicial system down the throats of our citizens give the majority a chance to make their views known.

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