Retiring judge deserves congratulations

Count the days. The April deadline approaches. And I don’t mean the 15th, our deadline for coming clean, or semi-clean, with Uncle Sam.

The big date this month is April 30. That’s the day New Mexico is scheduled to finally rid herself of District Judge James Blackmer. After nearly two decades on the bench, first in Santa Fe, then Albuquerque, Blackmer is retiring.
There goes another of society’s fat cats, right? Probably all set to drive his Lexus or some other sumptuous sedan to posh golf resorts for $100 massages and lazy days on the links.

Here’s the rub, though. Instead of retiring, Judge Blackmer wants to continue presiding at court until July 4. Free. This fellow not only wants to keep working, he doesn’t want to be paid.

The judge has declared July 4 his own Independence Day. In a letter to the Supreme Court requesting permission to work free, Blackmer said he owes this free service to the defendants waiting in jail and to the public, which has a right to prompt trials.

There’s more. He said that because of the trust placed in him for more than 19 years on the bench, he feels the need to “give back.”

Memo to 2nd Judicial District Chief Judge William Lang: Get yourself a psychiatrist on staff, quick. You’ve got some real courthouse loony tunes running loose up there.

Doesn’t Judge Blackmer understand the American culture? You don’t give back, you take. With your judgeship winding down, you put the brakes on, accept fewer cases, skip the homework.

Blackmer just doesn’t get it. Never has. I mean, here’s a guy known for marrying people free. He pays for coffee and hot chocolate to serve to people signing court papers in the back offices.

You know how arrogant and pompous judges can become after years of wielding power over the lives of ordinary folks? Here’s an example of Judge Blackmer’s arrogance: He once fined himself 16 bucks for arriving 16 minutes late for a hearing. Turns out he misjudged how long it was going to take him to ride his bike to court. That’s right, bicycle.

Memo to Chief Judge Lang: Forget the psychiatrist. Too late. Call for the straitjacket.

Judge Blackmer is 61. According to an Albuquerque Journal profile by Isabel Sanchez, he grew up on a ranch about 15 miles north of Espanola. An Army captain and UNM law graduate, his judicial career was colored by a basic belief that “there should be justice instead of retribution.”

There is a story about a New Mexico district judge who once sentenced a miscreant to jail. As the guy was being led from court by the bailiff, he called the judge an SOB. Calling the prisoner back to the bench, the judge stormed, “did you tell the bailiff I am an SOB?” Cornered, the poor fellow quickly answered, “No, judge, I don’t know how he found out.”

Judge Blackmer heard quite a different response recently. After being sentenced to a year in jail, a defendant said, “Congratulations on your many years on the bench and good luck in your retirement.”

We’ll second that.

Ned Cantwell is a fan of the late Judge Harvey Fort, who once sentenced an Artesia woman to college. Contact Cantwell at: