Christmas Stocking: A Sequel. Who is Santa Claus?

By: Bill Whaley
16 December, 2019

Recently I wrote a piece about Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham’s appointment of Rep. Bobby Gonzales as Senator Carlos Cisneros (RIP) replacement and pointed out that Bobby, who is from here, and represents the relationships of community. His appointment reinforces the social bonds and make possible the nuts and bolts of holding together the material and political infrastructure of quotidian life: taxes and revenue distributed for everything from roads and public buildings to water districts and health care or education.

Even more importantly, however, I witnessed Governor Lujan-Grisham’s wise judgment last Thursday at 4 pm with the nomination and subsequent investiture of Magistrate Judge Jeff Shannon as the newest District Judge in the 8th Judicial District.

This last semester my students and I read in one course “The Milagro Beanfield War,” in which the owner of the Body Shop and Pipe Queen, one Ruby Archuleta, sings, “I knew Jose Mondragon couldn’t go through his entire life without attempting one great thing.” (Jose’s the one who watered the beanfield, contrary to the law but not contrary to justice.)

In a second course we read “Taos Indians and the Battle for Blue Lake,” for which the liberal leaning “New York Times,” praised, perhaps the only time, President Richard Nixon, who signed the bill for the return of Blue Lake (members of the Nixon family still receive annual invitations to the Pueblo’s annual Pow Wow).

In both cases the sensitive reader feels what T.S. Eliot calls the “objective correlative” or action and character as symbol of fused empathy and action, here in the “righteousness” of the character’s expressed act.

In the courtroom, as the Mariachis played, the newly sworn in Judge Shannon beamed at the members of the audience, elected and appointed officials, and la gente. Much praised by the likes of Judge Emilio Chavez, Judge Ernie Ortega, Defense Attorney Alan Maestas, Jeff said a couple of “great things” that seem profound in their simplicity and so well represent the man’s integrity. Since I wasn’t taking notes I shall paraphrase.

He mentioned that as an air force (military) brat he attended 10 schools in twelve years. We know that he has lived and worked in Taos more than two decades, as public defender, private attorney, advocate for children, marrying judge to straight and gay couples on the Bridge, arbiter of arm-wrestling tournaments, and delivered justice under the law in Magistrate court. So, Judge Shannon, who has earned the trust of the community and La gente, through the voters, who have demonstrated their overwhelming approval and acceptance, calls Taos “home.”

The newly sworn-in-judge, helped into the black robes by longtime companion Susan Nuss and his older brother, also said simply that the law and justice did not always coincide but that he would do his best to do justice within the confines of the law. He has told me that he explains his decisions, the elements of “cause and effect” and “reasons” thus clarifying understanding for the sake of defendants.

You might call this a “therapeutic” approach to justice for the individual and the community. The oldest and most consistent concept of justice is found in Plato’s Republic, wherein justice is seen as the restoration of harmony in the community. It’s about fairness, dignity, and healing the body politic.

Judges don’t often say in public what everyone knows in so many words that sometimes “the law is an ass.”

Shannon embodies the idea of justice as expressed in his statement and actions. Consequently, you won’t see him looking over his shoulder at the “politics” or ignoring the “incompetence” of local government or the judicial system. When the Judge acts in the interests of justice and the people approve (almost unanimously at the ballot box), he is free to practice “attempting one great thing” or doing justice in the people’s district court.

I have one more anecdote. A number of years ago, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Daniels and a number of notables met in this same courtroom, where Shannon was sworn in, to hear recommendations, as I remember it, for the nomination of a new Judge during the administration of Gov. Susanna Martinez. I don’t remember whether Jeff was a Magistrate judge at the time or a mere “public defender” or private attorney.

Anyway, Jeff was present for a purpose. At a break in the proceedings, he got up and addressed “the court,” and reminded the Chief Justice et al of their neglected duties to supervise lower courts, especially municipal courts. As Public Defender Shannon had tried to spring inmates unlawfully detained by the Town of Taos muni court. (In one notorious case, an inmate disappeared into jail for more than 100 days, contrary to the statute and the “law” governing misdemeanor cases.) Most attorneys, who aspire to become judges, do not stand and reprimand the Chief Justice in public.

But Judge Jeff always has justice on his mind.