11/12/2020 0 Comments
3,000 signatures and counting!
Thank you so much for caring about this with me and signing our petition! Your support has made all the difference. We now have over 3,000 signatures and counting! Here’s a quick update:
1. It’s great to see new advocates from across the country, in addition to our home state of New Mexico because unethical financing for judges exists in the majority of the U.S. Your support is making a difference!
2. I just received a "Notice of Recusal" from the District Court Judge in my case, meaning she has decided not to preside over my family court matter any longer. I am grateful that another judge will resolve any pending issues, and I take this as progress even though our former judge did not provide a reason for her decision. My hope is that all judges who have not disclosed compromising campaign contributions will recuse themselves from such cases.
3. Many people have reached out from across New Mexico and the U.S. to share their own painful and traumatic experiences with our legal system. It's clearer than ever that our civil and criminal courts’ abuses of power impact everyone from parents in conflict and their children, to countless other victims of harms. Thank you for your courage! Local journalists have reached out and are considering how to bring this to a wider audience. I’ll keep you posted on any media coverage that arises, and if you’d like to share your own story, please get in touch.
4. Remember that preventing judges from receiving money from the lawyers who appear before them is only the first step down the road to meaningful change. This single issue is just the tip of the iceberg. We have an inherently biased judiciary system that will refuse to change without our attention. But your signatures and support are already making progress by educating so many!
5. I hope this website we will be an open forum to connect with others, share resources, and read about steps being taken to address judicial biases in our courts. Common Cause is a national non-profit with chapters in many states that advocate for equality and accountability of this kind. I look forward to working with their NM chapter to help illuminate these issues for our legislature.
To those of you who have chosen to donate money so that change.org can share this petition, thank you so much! Your time in reading, signing, and sharing this is making a HUGE difference! It's amazing to see our community band together to address fundamental biases in our courtrooms. To encourage others to sign, please share my tweet or my Facebook post, and connect with me there anytime!
Thank you again for your support!
11/1/2020 1 Comment
My story, in a nutshell.
This post took me a long time to write because it’s so personal and I hated having to write it, but it’s become unbearable to stay silent.
For almost two years, I have been representing myself (pro se) in a Family Court matter involving my daughter and her father. For those of you who haven’t been through the NM Family Court system, it’s impossible to describe the misery.
I’ve acted as my own attorney because I could not afford the going rate of $300/hour for a reputable family law lawyer to represent me. After tons of study, I learned how to read and write legal pleadings, prepare and speak in court hearings, and maintain my strength while under constant attack from opposing counsel in the case – one of the most expensive, well-connected and combative family court lawyers in New Mexico. I endured exhaustive assaults on my character, my beliefs, my parenting, my job, my income, and my mental fitness – all in an effort for the other side to ‘win’. These unnecessary and counterproductive attacks took an enormous toll on my time, my life, my health, my family, my work and the few close friends in whom I confided. Representing myself became a full-time job for well over a year that very few people knew about because I tried so hard to keep this personal matter private.
Exhausted in every way, I lost hope that the court would provide any helpful resolution to our conflict, or that the opposing side would ever agree to mediation, but I held on to the hope that if anyone would be ethical and fair, it would be our judge. Unfortunately, as the case went on, I realized how differently she treated me from my opposing counsel. Whether she was supporting the other side’s narrative through her silence, her decisions, her refusal to hear or admit evidence, her condescending statements, her interruptions when I would speak, or her curt responses to my sincere questions, I wondered how this supposedly neutral person could not see the double standard she was creating. Maybe she wasn’t aware of it. Maybe she thought she was treating us equally. But in our last hearing, our judge’s behavior was too biased and belittling to ignore.
That day, I drove home from the courtroom in tears, enraged that these professional women—both of whom are parents themselves—could behave this way. Then it came. A friend forwarded me a Facebook invite for a “Meet and Greet” with our judge, hosted by my opposing counsel’s law firm.
Meet and Greets are essentially fundraising events where lawyers and other legal professionals socialize with the judges who preside over their cases, and, more often than not, make donations to their campaigns. I could not believe what I was reading.
Our Judge was appointed to the District Court in Albuquerque last year. My opposing counsel wrote a compelling letter to the Governor supporting her appointment, and, outside of a New Mexico PAC, she and her law partners were my judge’s largest campaign contributor—at least six contributions since my case began.
As someone unfamiliar with this practice, I was astounded. I learned this is common in civil and criminal court as well. How could this kind of incestuous social and financial relationship between judges and the lawyers who practice before them be legal? How could the legal community not see the obvious conflict of interest?
So I researched and found that my judge’s behavior violated at least four statutes of the NM Civil Code of Conduct and the NM Rules of Civil Procedure. I then worked for weeks to create a well-supported, formal complaint to the Judicial Standards Commission—the state agency that investigates allegations against judges accused of misconduct. I sent the Commission evidence of the event for my judge, evidence of the campaign contributions, and evidence of the biased treatment. They waited FOUR months to respond. Then it came.
All nine professionals appointed to the Commission rejected my complaint via a template form letter. They said no action should be taken, and their decision is unappealable.
So here I am. After months of trying to heal from this horrific life experience, and going through all the proper channels to address public corruption – while knowing there are thousands of families who go through this awful court system every year, I see no choice but to work on my own plan for change. New Mexico’s Family Court was created over 30 years ago to bring resolution to families in conflict. Some lawyers, however, thrive in this conflict. And with judges who are too compromised to keep them in check, there is no hope for neutrality.
My judge is right now up for election, and she’ll win because nobody is running against her. But the thing is – this problem is so much bigger than one judge, one lawyer, or one case. Family Court is where people go when they're at the end of their rope. Family lawyers help people at their most vulnerable, and as professionals they have a choice: to fan the flames of hatred and fear, or recognize the lifelong trauma and damage they'll create by not focusing on cohesion and resolution. Judges are your last hope. Allowing them to take money from the lawyers who appear in their courtrooms every day not only corrupts their character but also corrupts our courts and any appearance of impartiality – in a system that's already inherently biased.
This abuse of power affects everyone – the adults who go through the system, our children who suffer under the conflict, even the legal professionals who see this corruption but conform and stay silent. No one wants to stand up to their friends or to people who have power over their livelihoods.
This is just one step. The fact that public financing is not an option for judicial campaigns is astounding. It’s well past time for change.
You can join me:
• Sign this petition to have our NM legislature and Governor create public financing for District Court Judges. I'll deliver it to each elected leader myself.
• Get updates: I'll regularly share progress made on reasonable steps that could help improve our system and would love to hear your own stories.
• Learn more about what public financing is from Common Cause.
• I’m hopeful that the legal professionals and leaders I respect will see this, agree that our system provides a breeding ground for unacceptable judicial bias, and join us in creating a path toward change.
If you have more specific questions, feel free to message me. I'd like to protect the privacy of loved ones involved. Thank you.
Trish Lopez. Mama. Auntie. Daughter. Sister. Mentor. Friend. I run a small business and non-profit called Teeniors®.