BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Municipal Judge Elizabeth Allen, a Democrat, is running for reelection unopposed. She spoke at the Oct. 3 League of Women Voters Candidate Forum and answered the one question that was asked. Her comments are presented below:
In early 2019, when I had only been the judge for a few months – I started working with my staff to see if we could transition to the court paperless. One of the initial steps taken was to attend a training by the company that managed the court software. At the training, when I posed the question about transitioning to paperless – the presenter was quick to tell me that it was almost impossible to go paperless because judges are too used to the way things were – and didn’t like the change. It doesn’t matter if you go paperless, the presenter told me, the judge will always stop the court from achieving the goal because they will still want everything printed out on paper. I finally told the presenter, “Well I am the judge, so I think we can make this happen.”
But I tell this story to illustrate the constant pushback I felt as a new judge to making any change that was different. The pandemic challenged many judges and several courts had to shut down. However, the Los Alamos Municipal Court never had to close our doors – we were already a step ahead by being paperless. Move all court online? Ok, lets do it – and we signed up for zoom before everyone was using zoom. Start doing check-ins for probation and pre-trial release online? Let’s try it. We heard for months to even years after the pandemic that courts and probation departments throughout the state still hadn’t figured out online court or online probation checks. Entire departments had shut down and were waiting. First 2 weeks, then 2 months. But each challenge – we figured it out, we adapted, we were flexible. Our goal was to maintain access to justice – online interpretation services, online treatment options, online community service options. We could always find a way to make it work.
We don’t want a criminal justice system that is reactive. We want the judges to meet people where they are – to use technology and evidence-based practices to serve those in our community. For example, we see an increase in risk taking behavior in Teen Court for middle school youth and start collaborating with organizations throughout Los Alamos and create pro-social, activities called Hawk Hangout. Kids requested tools to help them stop vaping, lets collaborate with Family Council to provide SMART recovery for teens.
I train and mentor other judges throughout the state, and work on committees with the NM Supreme Court. These keep me up to date with constant changes in law and rules. I attend trainings about ensuring our probation and pre-trail service programs are in-line with the latest research. I continue to adapt and pivot – and to make sure our Teen Court, and our probation department are also adapting.
I attended a national training last month about bail reform, and one of the presenters from New Mexico stated that in order to change bail reform in New Mexico – they have had to wait for some of the judges who won’t change to retire. That shouldn’t be the case. Whether it is paperless, bail reform or prevention – I never want to be the one that is stopping progress.
What further changes would you like to make to the office of Municipal Judge?
I think there are a lot of changes the state is anticipating through the legislature to make it so that it is easier for people to access justice. Whether it’s difficult to come to court – let’s continue things online and make sure that we have an online system that we can use post-pandemic –taking from the lessons we have learned and making sure we have those options. I would love to see more treatment options and some difference sentencing things that we’re going to be able to utilize. But I think things like just being open and flexible, listening to the community I will be able to adapt and make those changes as they come up.