There can be few better tributes to a judge than for those who knew her in life to remember her as intelligent, fair, hardworking and dedicated to the law.
So it is with the late Sarah Singleton, a District Court judge whose ability to tackle big cases — with justice firmly in her sights — has left its lasting mark on New Mexico.
Singleton, 70, died last week of cancer, working almost until the end even though she was retired from the bench except for a few cases. The recusal from her final case came July 3. On Thursday, she passed away. Services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe.
As a judge in New Mexico’s capital, cases with potential to change lives came her way. She did not shy away from tough decisions.
In 2013, she issued a ruling that led to the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Santa Fe County; eventually the matter ended up in the state Supreme Court, which legalized such marriages in New Mexico. In 2018 came perhaps her most important ruling, holding that New Mexico has been violating the constitutional rights of many students by failing to provide a sufficient education for children. This case is changing how money flows to public education in New Mexico, affecting students in every corner of the state.
Her groundbreaking decision outlined a nuanced, well-reasoned and documented case to show how New Mexico has been shortchanging children in its schools. Her decision in July 2018 and the lengthy findings of fact issued in January of this year underscored the constitutional problems with what New Mexico was doing in “failing to provide [children] with a uniform statewide system of free public schools sufficient for their education.”
Providing funds for a sufficient education is not a choice or dependent on how much money is in the state piggy bank. That’s a constitutional requirement, as Singleton recognized.
Because of her work, the Legislature and governor have been ordered to do a better job of funding education and improving the lives of children. We have hope that all children can achieve their potential.
In losing Judge Singleton, New Mexico has lost a jurist who interpreted the law with an eye to detail and compassion in her heart. Condolences go out to her family and friends, especially her longtime partner, retired state Court of Appeals Judge Lynn Pickard.
Sarah Singleton made her mark on New Mexico with a legacy that will live on, even as her passing is mourned. She will be missed.