Yesterday, Chief Justice William Johnson, Justice Roshanna Toya and Justice Tony Lucero came before the Isleta Tribal Council to give a report about the Isleta Appellate Court. Justice Christine Zuni-Cruz was not present. The Council, however, tried to speak with her via telephone during the meeting.
Justice Zuni-Cruz is a law professor at the University of New Mexico. But, for the next two semesters she will be teaching at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law in Canada. According to Chief Justice Johnson, she went to Canada this past August.
Several Council Members seemed unhappy that Justice Zuni-Cruz did not inform the Council that she would be leaving to teach in Canada. Council President Michael Allen Lente asked the Chief Justice why he failed to notify the Council of her departure. He responded, “Well, I guess I should’ve told you.”
Council member Barbara Sanchez asked Justice Zuni-Cruz whether she felt teaching in Canada would interfere with her ability to continue serving on the Court. Justice Zuni-Cruz responded, “Well — I’ll answer that — in this way — I’m willing to continue serving as a Justice.” The Council dropped their effort to carry on a discussion with Justice Zuni-Cruz because she was unable to hear questions from the Council.
The Council shifted topics and asked why the Appellate Court is failing to render decisions in a timely manner. During previous meetings, several council members voiced concerns that people were complaining that the Appellate Court was failing to issue decisions on their cases. Some tribal members have been waiting years for a decision.
Chief Justice Johnson explained that he is the only Justice writing the decisions because he is a lawyer. He said that it takes a lot of time to write each decision. The Chief Justice stated that Zuni-Cruz was also writing decisions when she was here. But, now that she is out of the country, she is not hearing cases. As a result, according to Johnson, she is only writing decisions on cases that she actually heard when she was here.
Council member Josephine Padilla asked about a “constitutional case” that has been pending for three years. She did not specifically identify the parties involved in the case. The Chief Justice replied, “I just haven’t had the time.” Padilla replied that “you’ve had that case when Justice Francine Jaramillo was on the Court and that was also before Justice Zuni-Cruz left.”
Chief Justice Johnson responded, “Well, I had issues with how Justice Jaramillo was analyzing that case. And, now that she’s gone, I’ve been able to get Justice Zuni-Cruz to start agreeing with my analysis.”
The Chief Justice said that it is very difficult for him because the Justices are only part time. He said that they have just started meeting twice a week to deal with the caseload. He explained that some cases are very complicated and they need to look at the entire file to make sure that the lower court judges did not make any errors.
Chief Justice Johnson had a variety of explanations as to why the Appellate Court is not rendering decisions in a timely manner. Ultimately, he asked the Council to appoint another lawyer to the Appellate Court and to make them full time.
The Council ended the discussion because the Council wanted to attend another meeting concerning the Isleta Elementary School.