Municipal judge's qualifications in question after appointment by city council

·4 min read

LAS CRUCES - An associate municipal judge's qualifications are being debated two weeks after his appointment by the Las Cruces City Council.

Las Cruces Municipal Court Presiding Judge Joy Goldbaum addressed the city council during its regular meeting Monday to say Kieran Ryan was no longer serving as a second municipal judge since he didn’t meet minimum qualifications for the position.

Though Goldbaum said Ryan had heard cases the previous week, it was now up to her to review each case Ryan heard to determine “if they need to be dismissed or can be reheard.”

Ryan told the Sun-News he hasn't been formally removed as a judge because that's a power held only by the state Supreme Court, though he said he expects Goldbaum will not put him on the docket to hear cases.

During the Aug. 1 council meeting, the city council voted to approve Ryan’s appointment to serve in the Municipal Judge II position until the next local election. Six councilors voted in favor of Ryan’s appointment, and District 5 Councilor Becky Corran voted no.

The city charter authorizes the council to “fill a vacancy by appointment of a municipal judge to serve until the next regular election.”

During her public comments in the most recent city council meeting, Goldbaum said Ryan should not have been appointed since he’s not currently allowed to practice law in New Mexico. The State Bar of New Mexico lists Ryan as an “inactive attorney” as of Aug. 15.

The charter further states: "No person may be elected judge of the municipal court who is not a member of the New Mexico State Bar," though it does not address someone's active or inactive status if they are a member.

City code stipulates: “No person may be elected or appointed municipal judge who is not a qualified elector of the city and an active member in good standing of the New Mexico State Bar Association.”

The charter is the city's original governing document while the code includes ordinances adopted since.

Why appoint a Municipal Judge II?

Goldbaum also intimated she wasn’t made aware of the plan to appoint Ryan by the council.

“There was no reason to rush through that appointment and to do so without my input, or even my knowledge,” Goldbaum said.

Las Cruces Municipal Judge Joy Goldbaum is sworn in to office, Monday Dec. 30, 2019.
Las Cruces Municipal Judge Joy Goldbaum is sworn in to office, Monday Dec. 30, 2019.

The city attorney’s office seemed to question Goldbaum’s reasoning, with Senior Assistant Attorney Brad Douglas responding to ask her if it was “the court’s position that (Ryan) is not a member of the New Mexico Bar if he is on inactive status?” The presiding judge answered yes.

Ryan said he believed the city charter allowed his appointment despite his inactive status.

Goldbaum was the previous Municipal Judge II before she was elected presiding judge in 2019, succeeding Ryan when he did not seek reelection. Ryan had been serving on the city's Oversight Committee until his recent appointment. Goldbaum has previously said she butted heads with Ryan while she was an associate judge, saying he resisted her progressive ideas such as DWI courts, homeless courts and other problem-solving courts.

No one had served in the Municipal Judge II role since Goldbaum's election. In early 2020, the city told the Sun-Newsthe vacancy didn’t need to be filled due to a declining caseload within the court, while Goldbaum argued leaving the vacancy would overwhelm her. On Aug. 1, 2022 Mayor Ken Miyagishima said alternate judges were being used as necessary, but their workload had increased to the point it made sense to bring in a second full-time judge once more.

"He's been in the public, he's served well (and) he's been reelected twice," the mayor said in justifying Ryan as his pick.

Corran, before voting no at the last meeting, said she would have preferred a more transparent process that was open to more potential candidates, especially since the judge job is paid, adding she was uneasy with "appointing someone without knowing anything about their background or experience," even if they'd served as judge before.

Ryan said his only intention was to assist Goldbaum with the workload at the court but will gladly step down if the city determines he's ineligible to serve.

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Michael McDevitt is a city and county government reporter for the Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-202-3205, mmcdevitt@lcsun-news.com or @MikeMcDTweets on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Las Cruces judge's qualifications in question after appointment by city council