Wednesday, June 23, 2004

El Defensor Chieftain: Judges back new drug test standards

El Defensor Chieftain: Judges back new drug test standards

Audry Olmsted El Defensor Chieftain Reporter

Judges in Socorro say they support a recent New Mexico Supreme Court decision that could force judges suspected of illegal drug use to submit to a drug test.

Seventh Judicial District Judge Thomas Fitch said substance abuse is a problem everywhere and that it affects people everywhere.

"It exists at all times," he said.

Fitch said community leaders, including judges, need to take extra caution in how they represent themselves since they are in the public eye.

"The public expects more of judges," he said.

The re-emphasis of a rule already in place says judges, lawyers and court employees with specific knowledge of illegal drug use by a judge must report it to the Judicial Standards Commission. An incumbent judge would be placed on administrative leave for up to 90 days while being investigated.

The commission will evaluate each report, then decide if further investigation is needed.

Judges, lawyers and court employees with a "good faith basis" to believe a judge is involved in illegal drug use may report it to the Lawyer Assistance Committee.

The new rule was announced in the aftermath of the May 29 arrest of Bernalillo County Judge W. John Brennan on drug charges when he was stopped at a sobriety checkpoint in Albuquerque. Brennan is scheduled to appear before the Supreme Court next month on disciplinary charges.

Magistrate Jim Naranjo said he would submit to a drug test if it were asked of him.

"I have no problem with it," he said.

Naranjo said the only thing he was unsure about was the proposal by state Sen. Steve Komadina that all elected officials submit to a voluntary drug test.

"The only thing I don't like is having to pay for my own test," he said.

In a press release issued last week, Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes said the "use of illegal drugs by a judge reflects directly on a judge's fitness for office and will not be tolerated."


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