Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a three-part series on a recent candidate forum.
Continuing the candidate forum hosted by the Grant County Democratic Party, and Western New Mexico University and its MEChA and Criminal Justice clubs, the candidates for 6th Judicial District Attorney, George Zsoka and Francesca Estevez, deputy district attorneys and prosecutors for the office, presented their opinions on issues.
Zsoka, said the district attorney for the 6th Judicial District, which encompasses Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties, is the chief law enforcement officer for the region.
"The district attorney is responsible for prosecuting crime in the district," Zsoka said.
He is the son of Hungarian immigrants. Zsoka introduced his mother, who was in the audience from Budapest, Hungary. "She and my father, who passed away three years ago, raised me with the love of God, belief in hard work and a belief that anything is possible in America."
He attended law school in Santa Clara, Calif. Zsoka has been a prosecutor for 23 years. "I prosecute homicides, shootings and gang-related cases," he said. "I am seeking justice for victims."
Zsoka has been in the Army reserves for many years and during the first Gulf War, directed a group of troops more than five times the size of the D.A.'s office of 40 employees in three district offices. "I have the experience in leading people."
"I want to make the community safer and seek justice for victims," Zsoka said. "The cornerstone of my platform is community involvement. I will get out into the community." He is an adjunct professor at Western and is in the preparation stages of a community education program.
Estevez thanked all the young people, "those under 50," who are interested in politics and the country. "Mr. Zsoka and I work together."
She said what made her decide to go to law school was when a family lost its case, because she was not allowed to translate until she had a law degree. "My whole dedication is for serving people and seeking justice." She has continually been an advocate for victims of violence and domestic abuse.
"My greatest asset is the attachment to the community," Estevez said. "I represent law enforcement."
She taught clinical legal services and criminal law at Seton Law School, and has also taught at Western. Prior to law school, Estevez ran a housing organization "back East, with about 65 employees. I also ran an office of Tenant Assistance in Jersey City, when the mob was throwing tenants out on the street."
Estevez said she is dedicated to victims of domestic abuse, and is a lifetime member of El Refugio Inc., as well as being a member of the Grant County Community Health council.
"I ask the audience for help," Estevez said. "We need dedicated people to go to the Legislature and ask for tougher sentencing laws, programs for those dying of drug abuse, and laws to take some of the discretion out of the judicial system, so that sentences are mandatory."
An audience member said he was concerned about the Western student who was murdered in Hurley several months ago.
"He was my godson," Estevez said. "At this point, we cannot discuss details. Mr. Zsoka is assigned to the case, and I know he is working as hard as possible to bring a suspect to justice."
Zsoka echoed Estevez's comments and said he realized the frustration. "I have been dealing with and speaking to his family. The grief is palpable. Everything is being done to build a case against the person who did this heinous crime, and I will prosecute to the fullest extent of the law."
The next two candidates are running for 6th Judicial District Court Judge for the Luna and Hidalgo counties' portions of the district.
Jennifer Delaney has been practicing law for 10 years. "I had the opportunity to intern at El Refugio, and helped with domestic violence hearings."
"I am now the hearing officer for the 6th Judicial District in Deming hearing families tell their stories," Delaney said. "The experience has prepared me to be a district court judge."
She said the reason she is running for the position is because of her grandfather. "I was already practicing law with my sister, and he asked me what my goals were. I said I had graduated from law school and had a successful practice, so I had met my goals. He was not happy with the answer and told me everyone needs goals."
"I enjoy my job," Delaney said. "I enjoy it every day. I appreciate that I can change people's lives for the better. What I've done is treat every person the same as I treated the person before him or her the same as the person after him or her. I have treated them fairly under the law."
She has coached mock trial teams in Luna and Hidalgo counties and is part of the housing authority that provides affordable housing. "We have a new weatherization program that is free to qualifying residents."
"I am a businesswoman, an attorney, a wife and a mother," Delaney said. "My husband is my biggest supporter. He is a Marine, and went into Iraq during the Gulf War."
Jarod Hofacket, who was born and raised in Deming, serves as the 6th Judicial District Court judge, after being appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez to fill the vacancy left by Judge Jeffreys.
"The governor was very thorough in her determination of who should fill the vacancy," Hofacket said. "She spent at least an hour with each candidate. On July 5, I was sworn in as the judge."
He is a graduate of New Mexico State University and Texas Tech Law School. He practiced for a time in Texas, but once his family started growing, he and his wife wanted to move back to Deming. "I specialized in business law, real estate, and estates in Texas," Hofacket said. "I did the same when I returned to Deming. I also served as city prosecutor for Deming."
"I've always said its not us and them, it's just us, so I put my name out to be judge," Hofacket said. "I want to help make a difference."
He said, since he has been in the judgeship, the court has a caseload of 700 cases for four judges in the three counties, with most in Deming and Silver City and a few in Lordsburg. "Judge Viramontes handles the adult criminal cases, and I have mostly juvenile delinquent, domestic violence and child abuse cases. Since July, I have closed or brought to resolution 235 cases. More have been filed since. I ask for your vote to continue in office."
A questioner asked about the "front line in the drug war. What are you doing to address it?"
Delaney said judges cannot prejudge cases, but "I see drug use in cases every day. As hearing officer, I have the capability to have people drug tested. If a person is positive for methamphetamine, I will change a decision on child custody. I cannot advocate to change laws, but I can send people to jail or to services."
Hofacket said when someone goes to court, he or she needs an impartial judge. "I see the prevalence in drug problems. It is staggering. In the district, we have adult drug court in Hidalgo and Grant counties, and in Luna, we have only juvenile drug court. I would like to see the programs expanded into other counties. There need to be sanctions and incentives to get people to comply. We need more services."
The next article will address the candidates for New Mexico representatives from Districts 38 and 39.