Four Democrats vying for a seat on the Santa Fe County Magistrate Court — just one of them an attorney — highlighted a need to reduce caseloads and streamline the court’s work as one of their top three priorities during a forum this week.

Other key goals varied for the candidates in the only contested Magistrate Court primary race.

They are seeking to replace Magistrate George Anaya Jr. on the bench of the so-called “people’s court.” Anaya announced he would not seek reelection after 25 years on the bench. Three other Democratic magistrates are seeking reelection unopposed.

There are no candidates from any other major party running for the position in the June 7 primary election, so the winner of the Democratic contest is likely to take the judgeship in January.

The Santa Fe New Mexican and League of Women Voters will hold a candidates' forum for those running for Santa Fe County magistrate division 2.

The forum begins at 6:30 pm online at santafenewmexican.com and in-person at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center.

The candidates for the seat include Melissa Y Mascareñas, a retired state worker with 30 years of paralegal and records management experience; John Baca, who spent 18 years working as a court manager under past magistrates and for the New Mexico State Land Office as an executive secretary and administrator; Dev Atma Khalsa, an assistant district attorney with the First Judicial District Court since 2019; and Michael Roybal, who previously served as a court monitor under state District Judge Jason Lidyard and worked in the First District Court Clerk’s Office.

The Thursday evening forum at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center was co-sponsored by The New Mexican and the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County and livestreamed on the newspaper’s website.

Mascareñas, 54, said if she were elected, she would start a Magistrate Court program to ensure everyone who comes to the court has access to needed resources, such as rental assistance for people facing eviction.

She added she is the only candidate who “doesn’t need a job” and would focus on showing up to work and working hard everyday.

“I am retired from state government, and I want to give back to my community, and this is how I want to give back to the community,” she said.

Baca, 44, said his first step would be getting to know his mentor judge and learning the ins and outs of the position, while also focusing on becoming a more visible part of the community, especially



in high schools.

“I think our teens are heading in the wrong direction,” Baca said. “Take a day off from the office, from your docket, and go make yourself visible to the student and let these teachers know you want to become involved.”

Baca, who also works at the Rivera Family Funeral Home, said he sees “the part that people don’t like to see if they don’t change” their course.

“We have to change that,” he said.

Kalsa, 44, said being the only attorney on the ballot means he could hit the ground running and would immediately start seeking funding to set up a domestic violence treatment court.

He also said he would make sure written orders are the norm for his court, noting sometimes judges do not provide written orders for their decisions, leading to what he feels is a lack of transparency.

“It’s the people’s court,” Kalsa said. “We need someone who can help address those issues and help guide people through those issues.”

Roybal, the youngest candidate at 32, turned his attention to hiring goals, noting a “major shortage” in the Magistrate Court ranks. He also would get involved with specialty courts to make sure they are properly funded, he said.

Roybal, who said he was running for the seat because his family has a deep history with addiction and because he knows what it’s like to have a lack of resources, said he wanted to be an advocate for more court funding.

The League of Women Voters and The New Mexican will host their fourth and final candidate forum at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center for those vying for seats in the state House of Representatives.

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