Taos mountains

Eighth Judicial District Court

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Judges

Emilio J. Chavez

Emilio J. Chavez

Chief District Court Judge

Melissa A. Kennelly

Melissa A. Kennelly

District Court Judge

Melissa A. Kennelly was appointed district judge in April 2019 and elected to the position in 2020. Judge Kennelly presides over cases filed in the Colfax and Union county district courts, including felony criminal, civil, probate, children’s court, domestic matters, administrative and magistrate court appeals, and is the district’s water judge. She presides over the Raton Adult Drug Court Program, chairs the Colfax/Union County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, and serves on the Tribal-State Judicial Consortium and the Supreme Court’s Code of Judicial Conduct Committee.

Prior to her appointment as district judge, Judge Kennelly was the staff attorney for the Eighth Judicial District Court; clerked for judges on the New Mexico Court of Appeals and Colorado Court of Appeals; and practiced law in civil matters, including litigation and transactional work involving real estate, business, insurance, foreclosure, water rights, estate planning, and probate. Judge Kennelly graduated with honors from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2010, where she was co-editor-in-chief of the Natural Resources Journal. Prior to moving to New Mexico in 2004, Judge Kennelly served for six years as a police officer near Cleveland, Ohio.

Jeffrey A. Shannon

Jeffrey A. Shannon

District Court Judge

Ernest L. Ortega

Ernest L. Ortega

Presiding Judge, Taos Magistrate Court

Ernest L. Ortega was appointed Taos County Magistrate Judge in January 2006 by Governor Bill Richardson. Judge Ortega is currently serving his fourth elected term on the bench and presides over criminal and civil cases including felony preliminary hearings, misdemeanor jury trials and civil cases up to $10,000.00 claims. 

Prior to his appointment, Judge Ortega served as  Special Assistant to United States Senator Jeff Bingaman, Director of Pre-Trial Services for the Eighth Judicial District Attorney’s Office under John Paternoster, and Press Secretary for New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from the University of New Mexico

Sara Blankenhorn

Sara Blankenhorn

Magistrate Judge, Taos County

Graduated from Taos High, then earned B.A. from University of Washington, and M.A. from St. John’s College in Santa Fe. Earned law degree cum laude from University of New Mexico Law School.

After practicing law in Santa Fe and Taos, appointed Taos Magistrate Judge in March 2020 by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, then won the primary election in June 2020 to serve her first term.

Felix Peña

Felix Peña

Magistrate Judge, Colfax County - Springer

Warren Walton

Warren Walton

Magistrate Judge, Colfax County - Raton

Warren G. Walton was appointed the Raton Magistrate Judge in May 2001 by Governor Gary Johnson, was elected in November 2002, and re-elected four times.  His jurisdiction includes petty misdemeanor and misdemeanor cases and civil cases up to $10,000.  He currently serves as the chair of the behavioral health committee for the Colfax County Justice Committee.  He has served on the board of directors of the Magistrate Judges Association for 16 years, five of those as vice president.  He has lobbied for the judiciary at the state legislature for many years ensuring advancement of the judiciaries needs.

Before his appointment, Judge Walton worked for the BNSF railroad for four years, taught school in the Raton schools for 3 years and piloted CH-47D and UH-1 helicopters as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army, achieving the rank of Captain.

Timothy Hodo

Timothy Hodo

Magistrate Judge, Union County

Tim Hodo was elected Union County Magistrate Judge in 2010. He took office January 1,2011. He has won two more elections since and is currently serving as Union County Magistrate Judge. 

Before coming to the bench he owned and operated multiple businesses in Clayton. He attended the University of New Mexico but left the University to pursue his business interests.