Voters in Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties will decide who will hold the position of District Court Judge Division 1 in New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District as voting concludes Tuesday.
Incumbent District Judge Eileen Riordan, a Democrat, and David Finger, a Republican, are each campaigning for the position in Tuesday’s election.
In all, according to information on the website of the New Mexico Secretary of State, there are 19 district court judgments up for re-election of this cycle. But the contest between Riordan and Finger is one of only two where a sitting district judge has a challenger.
Riordan, a longtime Carlsbad city attorney, was appointed to the seat by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in 2021 following the retirement of Judge Ray Romero. Now she hopes to keep that job.
“I ask from everybody exactly what they would ask of a judge, which is their fair consideration. And that is what I am asking for from the voters,” Riordan explained in a recent interview with the Roswell Daily Record.
Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties are all reliably Republican areas. Finger of Lovington and a longtime Lea County magistrate judge, though, says that does not mean that he believes he will coast to a win.
“I am not taking anything for granted. I know this is gonna be a tough, tough race and I… am campaigning and working hard for it, recognizing that it is a tough race,” Finger said.
On her website, Riordan lists a roaster of endorsements from municipal and county level officials within the district from both major political parties.
According to the latest campaign finance reports, throughout this election cycle Riordan’s campaign has taken in $80,050, much more than the $7,902.48 Finger’s campaign has amassed in that same period.
Both candidates say, in the end, it is the electorate that will render the verdict.
“I think we have a lot of educated voters who are looking at our qualifications and they are making educated decisions,” Finger said.
Riordan, 57, came to the bench after working for decades as an attorney for the city of Carlsbad.
Born in Las Cruces, she graduated from New Mexico State University with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry with a minor in philosophy, before obtaining a juris doctorate from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1990.
On her campaign website, Riordan said she initially enrolled in law school because one of her friends wanted someone to take the law school exam with.
“So I took the test and applied to the UNM School of Law,” the website states.
After graduation, Riordan relocated to Carlsbad to work as a law clerk for the 5th Judicial District. A short time later, she went into private practice.
“I was in private practice for about four or five years,” Riordan said to the Roswell Daily Record.
Part of her work was as a contract prosecutor for the city of Carlsbad, which at the time did not have a full-time attorney.
When the city established such a position, she took the job. For more than 25 years, she was a source of legal advice to the municipal government of Carlsbad.
“In that job, I did prosecution, I did all of their drafting, civil work, contracts, kind of handled everything at that time,” she said.
For Riordan, doning the robe of a judge was never really one of her ambitions, but in accessing her three decades of work in the legal field and talking to some people she respected, she started to consider applying for such a position.
“I kind of looked back over my career as an attorney, you know, the 30 years I had been an attorney at this point, and I thought, what is it that has interested me most in the different jobs I have held,” she said.
What Riordan found was she is most satisfied when doing work that goes beyond representing a single client, instead serving a function that is bigger and part of a wider community.
“And I thought ‘you know, I do see this theme, I see that is what I like,’ so I put in for it,” she said.
As for her political affiliation, Riordan says it is the facts presented to her and the law that are the foundation of her decisions from the bench, not her politics or those of someone who comes before the court.
“My job is to be fair and impartial and one of the things I need to be impartial about is people’s political viewpoints,” she said.
Finger, a Lea County Magistrate Judge, said he has long been interested in becoming a district judge.
Years ago he applied for a Division 7 district court judge seat eventually given to Judge Michael Stone.
Originally, Finger planned to work in private practice for a few years before trying again. In the end, though, he concluded that 2022 was his time.
“This did seem like a good opportunity and I decided to go ahead and launch my campaign last year,” Finger told the Roswell Daily Record.
Finger, 48, was born in Hawaii, to a father in the US Air Force. When he was a teenager, Finger and his family moved to Michigan.
He attended and received an undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan at Flint, before later earning a juris doctorate from the University of Denver.
Once he graduated, he received two job offers as a prosecutor: one in the 3rd Judicial District in Dona County, which includes Las Cruces, and the other in the 5th Judicial District in Lea County.
“My family was living in Las Cruces at the time and everyone I knew assumed I would want to live in Las Cruces,” Finger said.
However, he said that he “fell in love” with Lea County and opted for a job in the 5th Judicial District. In that capacity, he prosecuted several felony cases, including child sex crimes, and was Lea County’s chief prosecutor on narcotics.
When the Division 4 magistrate judge seat opened in 2011, Finger applied and was appointed by then-Gov. Susana Martinez. Since 2009 he also has taught business law as a professor at New Mexico Junior College.
As a magistrate judge, Finger is tasked with presiding over cases involving misdemeanor crimes, as well as landlord/tenant disputes, torts, contracts, alleged incidents of driving while under the influence or while intoxicated, traffic violations and felony preliminary hearings in Lea County.
Finger said, as the sole magistrate judge in Lea County, he has to handle one of the biggest case loads in the state. He said almost 5,000 cases came before him in 2017.
Though restricted in what he can talk about on the campaign trail due to his current position, as well as the one he hopes to be elected to, finger believes his track record as a judge and his ability to manage a heavy work load will demonstrate to voters that he is both fair and effective.
“If you ask people who’ve been in my court … what type of judge I am and how I run (my) court, I think they are going to give a pretty positive review and a positive assessment of how I conduct court ,” he said.