Two candidates compete for the Aztec Magistrate Court judge position
Biel previously served as a magistrate court judge
FARMINGTON – A recently appointed Aztec Magistrate Court judge is already participating in his first election — and is facing a challenger who has experience as a trial court judge.
Incumbent Stephen Wayne was appointed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Aug. 19 to the San Juan County Magistrate Court Division Six magistrate judge bench.
Current San Juan County Probate Judge Stacey Biel is running as the Republican challenger for the bench during the Nov. 3 general election.
Wayne was appointed to replace the late Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Barry Sharer. Wayne is required to participate in the next election after being appointed.
Wayne told The Daily Times he is running as an independent, which results in him being listed as declined to state or "DTS" on the election ballot.
He preferred non-partisan elections for judicial positions from when he lived in Michigan and Kentucky, stating politics don't belong in the courtroom.
Judge Wayne earned his juris doctorate from Wayne State Law School in Detroit, Michigan.
He worked three years as a public defender in Kentucky before moving to the area.
Wayne had a seven-year stint with the Aztec office of New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender and was working as a senior children's court attorney at the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department before being appointed to the bench.
Adjusting to the judicial bench during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge but Wayne said it has been pretty smooth.
Most court hearings are occurring remotely through an audio or video conference call.
One challenge he adjusted to is hearing 20-30 cases during criminal dockets as there is no set schedule to determine in what order the cases are heard.
Wayne believes his previous courtroom experience as a lawyer is important to ensuring defendants are aware of their rights while being accused of a crime.
He also believes he brings a humility to hearings, including civil cases involving evictions.
Biel was elected to the county Probate Judge position during the Nov. 6, 2018, general election. If elected to the magistrate judge position, Biel said she would resign from the probate judge bench.
She served as a magistrate court judge between 2005 and 2010 along with 15 years at district court and three years in the district attorney's office.
The candidate also ran in the June 3, 2014, primary election for the San Juan County Magistrate Court Division One Republican position but lost to Connie Johnston, according to The Daily Times archives.
Biel also served as the Farmington Municipal Court Judge Pro Tempore from 2016 to 2019.
In her 30 years of legal experience, she has also served as a mentor judge to help train and educate new judges and has also taught classes and helped develop curriculum for magistrate judges.
After Judge Sharer stepped down from the bench. Biel said a lot of people contacted her and urged her to run.
She believes a magistrate judge can touch so many lives and make a positive influence on the people in the community.
Biel believes some defendants sometimes need a "little kick" to straighten up to help get them on the right path while serious offenders have to be handled differently.
Biel noted that she brings her wealth of knowledge to the bench and has already served a full term as a magistrate judge.
She remembers sentencing some defendants to substance abuse treatment and hearing later on that seeking treatment was one of the best things that happened to them.
Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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