First Judicial District Judge Matthew Wilson has been assigned to the Yazzie/Martinez vs. the State of New Mexico case following the death of Judge Sarah Singleton last week.
According to a court notice, Singleton recused herself last Wednesday, citing health concerns, and the case was transferred to Wilson. Singleton died of cancer at age 70 last Thursday.
In a 76-page decision issued in June 2018, Singleton ruled New Mexico had “violated the rights of at-risk students by failing to provide them with a uniform statewide system of free public schools sufficient for their education.”
Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Wilson to the First Judicial District to fill the judicial vacancy left by a retirement in 2013.
In 2014, Wilson ran unopposed for the Division 9 Family Court position within the first district. Wilson has a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a law degree from Stetson University in Florida. He was admitted to the New Mexico Bar Association in 2000 and has lived in Santa Fe since 2002.
Singleton’s ruling last summer helped spur the Legislature during the 2019 session to invest an extra $480 million in public schools in the budget for the current fiscal year. As that new money is spread across the state and more programs are enacted in the future, Wilson will be charged with determining whether the state is complying with Singleton’s original ruling.
Last month, plaintiff Wilhelmina Yazzie, who is being represented by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, filed a notice of case status that said the state is not complying with the ruling, arguing education spending still remains below pre-recession levels of 2008.
The filing also says that while the Yazzie plaintiffs worked with lawmakers on legislation to help remedy inequities in education, most of those initiatives and funding were blocked and died in committees.
“[The Legislature] took last year’s budget, made some adjustments, with some steps forwards and some steps backwards, and, in the end, left us with a patchwork system of education and inadequate funding that continues to fail our students,” the document says.
Plaintiff James Martinez, who is being represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, has not yet filed a notice of case status.