Arthur Pippin, Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts--a creature of the New Mexico Supreme Court--which prepares budgets and provides other professional services for the New Mexico court systems, has informed the Magistrate Court in Dona Ana County that it will close the Anthony Court in the very near future. The closing is in response to the state's perilous fiscal condition, with tax revenues lower than expected.
The problem with closing the Anthony Court is that, located more than twenty miles South of Las Cruces, it services a population of about 50,000, including the communities of Sunland Park, Santa Teresa, La Union, Chaparral, Chamberino, La Mesa, San Miguel, Anthony, Berino, and Mesquite. And it serves this population only two days per week as it is. This population is about the same size as Eddy County (population about 52,000), the 10th largest county in the state, in population. People in Sunland Park, Santa Teresa, and Anthony are among the fastest growing communities in the state, with El Paso spilling into our South Mesilla Valley from the $5 billion expansion of Ft. Bliss. If Anthony is closed, Sunland Park, Santa Teresa, and Chamberino residents will have to commute about 35 miles to the Las Cruces Magistrate Court. People in La Union, Chaparral, Chamberino, La Mesa, San Miguel, Anthony, Berino, and Mesquite, will have to commute an average of about 20-25 miles to get to the Las Cruces Court. The Hatch Court, about 40 miles away, but with only a small fraction of the cases handled by Anthony, will not close.
The Anthony Court handles about 6000 cases per year. This calculates at about 60 cases per day for the two days a week the court is open. Are the courts in counties with less than 50,000 population, and less than 6000 cases per year, going to close down, or drastically curtail their schedules?
It so happens, the New Mexico Motor Transportation Department, located 2 miles from Anthony, issues numerous citations per week to truckers with irregularities--often part of the huge increase in traffic in the past few years from Mexico, an increase that is bragged about in economic development brochures hoping to attract industry to the area. Does it matter that a state agency will be stretched thin by having to send officers all the way to Las Cruces to handle these cases? Can the AOC release the measures they are going to take in other counties to address the fiscal crisis, transparently, so that citizens can judge for themselves whether their court is getting fair and equitable treatment?
Yes, closing Anthony will save the court system in Santa Fe some money. But with all the extra dollars spent in gasoline, isn't this really a transfer of money from citizens and sometimes other state agencies to the court system, a tax, really, on people of the South Valley to pay for the state's (that is, the legislature's and the governor's) inability to set priorities and plan ahead? Aren't NM taxpayers still subsidizing the Hollywood industry for their costs while filming here, a tab that cost us $90 million in the fiscal year just ended, in an enterprise that gets us back 14 cents on the dollar? Why should the South Mesilla Valley have to pay more than their fair share for the state's poor priorities and planning?
The South Mesilla Valley has been neglected for many decades by the political system, and it remains among the poorest regions in the state, in spite of usually contributing an extremely high percentage to the usually winning party. Supreme Court Judges come down at election time smiling nicely, asking for votes, and usually can count on extremely high percentages. Aren't the people of the South Mesilla Valley entitled to more than a door slammed shut at the courthouse? Was this decision made, as it appears, without any consultation with the people that would be affected? If there are good answers to these questions, let us know.