Judge Daniel E. Ramczyk is a judge of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.
Judge Ramczyk was appointed to the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court in April 2003 and was elected in 2004 and has been retained by voters through all elections since.
His prior work experience includes service as an assistant district attorney, assistant city attorney, and several years in private practice.
He serves as a criminal judge and also presides over the Competency Court.
He received his undergraduate and, in 1983, his law degree from the University of New Mexico.
On September 7, 2018 and December 7, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal published guest editorials written by Judge Ramczyk.
The opinions expressed in both letters are solely those of Judge Ramczyk individually and not those of the entire court system.
Both articles are insightful and give a very rare glimpse to the public of what Judges are required to do in performing their judicial duties.
Both letters merit a read by any one concerned about New Mexico’s Judiciary.
Following are the articles with the Journal links.
September 7th, 2018
JUDGES CANNOT BE CONCERNED WITH POPULARITY
“Catch-22 — a situation presenting two equally undesirable alternatives.”
Consider the following hypothetical:
A man commits a horrific murder. A murder weapon undeniably proves his guilt. The weapon, however, is seized without a valid search warrant. The man moves to suppress the gun as evidence. With the gun, the state can convict. Without it, it cannot. The so-called “exclusionary rule” requires the presiding judge to suppress the evidence. The man walks free. The public is outraged. Not at the man who committed the murder. Not at the circumstance which warranted suppression. The public is outraged at the judge.
Judges find themselves in Catch-22s throughout their careers. If a judge refuses to follow the law, a higher court can remove that judge from the bench. However, if a judge does apply the law and angers constituents, that judge also can be removed from office either by election or recall.
What’s a judge to do?
When I was appointed to the Metropolitan Court bench in 2003, I took the following oath:
“I, Daniel Ramczyk, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the state of New Mexico and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of the office of Metropolitan Court Judge, Division XII, Bernalillo County.”
I must enforce laws passed by the New Mexico Legislature, follow appellate decisions handed down by higher courts, and comply with the rules and orders issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Going into this job, my eyes were wide open. I realized inevitably and probably more than once I was going to render a decision that would be unpopular to my constituents but was required by my oath. No wiggle room. No ifs, ands or buts. I must honor my oath. Period. End of story.
Any judge who reacts and responds to public sentiment when it violates his or her oath of office essentially is supporting a mobocracy form of government.
Mobocracy is defined as rule or government by the mob or the masses. A mobocracy attempts to intimidate legitimate government authority. Think Salem witch trials. The lynching of black Americans following the American Civil War. Think McCarthyism. Mobocracy is synonymous with chaos, destruction and loss of freedoms.
A mobocracy might be darkly satisfying to some people when they are members of the mob du jour. But what happens when any of them suddenly are the individual whom the mob is persecuting? They will be the first to insist upon the protection of their individual constitutional and legal rights. And who will they rely upon? The courts, of course.
Though a judge should not allow public sentiment to influence his or her legally mandated decisions, judges nevertheless should avoid adding fuel to the fire of a mobocracy.
I need to explain all my decisions clearly and cite those laws and rules upon which I rely. Then, if people are upset with my decision, they at least know to whom to petition for a change. Perhaps the Legislature needs to change a law. Maybe the Supreme Court needs to modify or strike a rule of procedure.
This is key. Shooting the messenger solves nothing and changes nothing.
I also need to avoid the appearance of being insensitive to the concerns of the people I serve. I have a responsibility to remain informed as to serious issues in my community and to find solutions within the parameters of my duties as a judge. Acting as though I am above and beyond of what people think will invite disrespect for the courts. I should never let this happen.
And finally, if I make a mistake, I have a duty to change my decision. If I make a bad decision, I should not dig my heels in and try to justify that which cannot be justified. I am human. When I am wrong, I must admit and fix it.
In the final analysis, serving as a judge is extremely challenging because the next decision I make may mean the end of my judicial career. That is the stark reality for people in my profession. But the focus of my job as a judge has never been about keeping my job as much as doing my job.
Friday, December 7th, 2018
JUDGES ARE NOT POLITICIANS IN BLACK ROBES
“Judges and politics don’t mix. Everyone believes that.
In a word? Impartiality.
The essence of the judicial branch is to provide an impartial forum to parties embroiled in a dispute. Judges resolve disputes, both criminal and civil, by determining the truth and then applying the law. This process guarantees justice for all.
Politics, however, is about amassing power and influence through promises and engaging in quid pro quo. The leaders of our executive and legislative branches obtain power directly through this Machiavellian process. Politics, by its nature, is not designed to ensure justice and equality for everyone. Indeed, to the victor goes the spoils.
So it is indeed refreshing, not to mention vital, to have a major branch of government that serves everyone from the standpoint of truth and justice.
Unfortunately, there is a public perception in our country today that the judicial branch is becoming just as political as the legislative and executive branches. Today, people seem to believe that judges’ decisions are based upon political party affiliation and beliefs. Also, some people have opined that judicial campaigns force judges to “sell” their impartiality.
I disagree with both propositions.
My own experience on the bench has convinced me that a judge’s political beliefs prior to becoming a judge do not ultimately influence his or her legal decisions. Call me naïve, but I believe judges who take the oath of office understand the seriousness and gravity of the oath – and honor it. Upholding the Constitution and the laws of the land takes priority over previously held political beliefs. Judges bend over backward to enter fair and impartial decisions.
Insofar as political campaign donations are concerned, judges are not allowed to accept contributions directly. Instead, judicial candidates must appoint treasurers, who create a firewall between the judges and the donors. Ideally, the identities of the donors are never known to the judicial candidate. And if there ever is an appearance of impropriety, a judge must recuse himself from a case. If the parties have a problem with a judge, they, too, may motion for an excusal.
Finally, everything we judges do is in public and on the record. Every single decision we make must be supported by facts and law and must be recorded. Corruption, bias and political prejudice cannot survive the level of public scrutiny which judges face every day.
And, yet, the perception persists that politics have permeated and are corrupting the judicial branch of government. I believe the perception stems, in part, from the growing cynicism the average American has of anything government-related. And part of the perception is related to the never-ending saturation of sensationalistic “news” spewed forth to the public through the internet. Everyone and everything, including judges, are under attack. As they say in the news business, “if it bleeds, it leads.”
Reasons for the perception notwithstanding, I believe that judges can take certain steps to avoid the perception of themselves as politicians. Personally, I never place bumper stickers of any kind on my car, I never place political signs in my yards, and I never discuss politics with people. I never support or oppose any political candidate or elected official. I do not praise, criticize or otherwise comment on a political candidate or elected official. I do not participate in, contribute to or attend political events.
Most importantly, I always explain the reasons for my decisions at length in the courtroom.
Former United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor once stated that “the legitimacy of the judicial branch rests entirely on its promise to be fair and impartial.”
Think about it. The executive branch of government has the power of the military. The legislative branch has the power of the purse strings. And the judicial branch? All it has to back up its decisions is its integrity. If judges lose the appearance of integrity, then they will lose the legitimacy of their decisions and will be viewed as just politicians in black robes. And then our third branch of government will become powerless.
As someone who has given his all to supporting the integrity of the bench, I have to believe that I am a typical judge and that our judicial branch of government is healthy and will endure.
DINELLI COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
All State of New Mexico Judges are strictly prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from holding any elected or appointed positions in political parties.
All State Judges are strictly prohibited from endorsing any candidate for office and cannot solicit donations for elections.
Candidates running for Judge must have a confidential finance committee set up to raise money for them, the committee is prevented from disclosing to the judicial candidate names of donors to prevent the Judges from knowing who donated to their campaigns to avoid the appearance and accusation of giving preferential treatment in decisions rendered.
A Judge is also prevented by the Code of Judicial Conduct from making “extrajudicial comments” to the media or groups that may reflect on their fairness and impartiality.
Judges are prohibited from defending their decisions and sentencings and their job performance in a public forum outside of their courtrooms so criticizing judges is like “shooting fish” in a barrel.
Going after and complaining about elected judges for their rulings and decisions is a very popular thing to do especially by those running for office.
As practicing attorney for over 40 years, including 7 years as a Workers Compensation Judge, I have seen firsthand how lawyers and parties can react and even carry a grudge when they disagree with a ruling, now matter how sound the ruling is based on fact and the law.
Attacking and criticizing Judges to garner votes and “gin up” a political base has become a tried and true tactic of way too many politicians.
“Judicial activism” is always a favorite term used to criticize judges.
Judicial activism refers to judicial rulings that are based on personal opinion, rather than on existing law, and calls into question a judge’s fairness and impartiality.
Judicial activism usually is used to advocate for judicial restraint in controversial political issues such as abortion, civil rights and campaign finance reform.
Attacking any Judge for a decision made all too often is a red flag of ignorance of our criminal and civil justice system or even worse pandering to appeal to people’s worst fears to get votes or lying to the public.