Gov. Martinez appoints new judge to state Court of Appeals

Emil J. Kiehne via nmappellatelaw.com

Gov. Susana Martinez on Friday appointed a Republican lawyer from Los Lunas to a seat on the state Court of Appeals.

Emil Kiehne, 45, is the governor’s third appointee to the nine-member appellate court this year after recent retirements.

Kiehne will leave one of the state’s major law firms, Modrall Sperling, for a seat left empty at the end of July after the departure of Jim Wechsler, a long-serving Democrat.

The court is usually the first stop for appeals in criminal and civil cases wending through the state’s judiciary and handles about 900 cases a year.

Kiehne (pronounced KEE-nee), who will be up for election in November 2018, said he looks forward to the campaign, though Republicans have struggled to win statewide judicial races in recent years.

“I will do my best in a fair and impartial manner,” Kiehne said Friday.

He was among six applicants to succeed Wechsler, and a judicial nominating committee comprising several lawyers as well as lay people recommended all six to Martinez after a hearing last month.

During that hearing, the committee questioned Kiehne in particular about his political activities.

One member of the committee asked about photographs of Kiehne’s wife and children at an anti-abortion protest as well as writings from the 1990s in which he argued abortions are always wrong.

Though not mentioned at the hearing, Kiehne also represented Elane Photography, an Albuquerque studio which was sued in 2008 for refusing to photograph a commitment ceremony that a woman was planning with her female partner.

“I would not base my decisions on my opinions,” Kiehne told the panel. “I’d base them on the law.”

Born in Silver City, Kiehne graduated from Los Lunas High School and earned an undergraduate degree from Harvard University. He went on to earn a master’s degree from the Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain. He graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 2000.

Kiehne went on to work as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for three years before going into commercial litigation there for a year and joining Modrall Sperling’s Albuquerque office in 2004.

According to his application to the nominating commission, he has handled about 135 appeals, both civil and criminal in state as well as federal courts. He applied for a seat on the Court of Appeals at least once before.

Kiehne, who is married, sits on the board of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and the Catholic Foundation.

Kiehne is also known for editing a blog on appellate law in New Mexico and as a voice in the world of appellate lawyers on Twitter.

But Kiehne conceded Friday that running for a seat on the appeals court will bring an end to his tweeting and blogging, both of which are prohibited under the state Supreme Court’s rules for judicial candidates.

Kiehne’s first day on the bench has not been set.

The court has offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque and judges are paid about $125,000 a year.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that the state Court of Appeals has an annual caseload of about 9,000. The court’s annual caseload is about 900.