Los Alamos County Councilors responded during Tuesday night’s meeting to the resignation of Probate Judge Bill McKerley.
McKerley wrote a letter dated May 19, 2016 to Council Chair Rick Reiss that his resignation will be effective upon appointment of a replacement. McKerley was appointed to the position Feb. 16 after Probate Judge Chris Chandler resigned.
McKerley stated in his letter that he had recently been informed by the County Attorney that he had a conflict of interest under the State’s Code of Conduct, which prohibits political involvement for even part-time probate judges. McKerley is chair of the Los Alamos Republican Party. McKerly stated in the letter that he had been informed when participating in training for the office that the provision in question did not apply to probate judges; that information had been based on an outdated 2013 training manual given to him at the time.
However, the provision in the Code of Conduct changed in 2015 and it now applies to probate judges, which causes the conflict of interest. McKerley then made the decision to resign as probate judge and keep his Chair appointment for the Republican Party.
The Council is responsible for filling the vacancy left by McKerley’s resignation. Based upon their past approach, when they were asked to appoint a Probate Judge after a vacancy arose, they asked the County Manager Tuesday evening to advertise for letters of interest to be submitted to the Council for consideration. Because elections will be held in November, the successful applicant would fill the position until the end of 2016.
Consideration and appointment of a new Probate Judge has been placed on the Council’s June 28 Council meeting agenda (6 p.m. in Council Chambers). A call for letters of interest is now open and letters are due to the County Manager no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 21. Interested applicants are asked to submit a one or two page letter indicating why they would be interested in serving as Probate Judge.
Under State law, any qualified person over the age of 18 who is a resident of Los Alamos County may serve. Letters of interest should be mailed or hand-delivered to County Manager Harry Burgess, Los Alamos County Municipal Building, 1000 Central Avenue, Suite 350, Los Alamos, NM 87544 by the deadline. Candidates who submit a letter will be expected to attend the June 28 Council meeting to respond to questions from the Council about their letter and qualifications.
Outside of filling the vacancy is a related issue concerning the office of Probate Judge and the upcoming primary election June 7 and later general election in November. McKerley had filed in March to have his name placed on the ballot and his bid for the office had been uncontested. However, his resignation comes too late for his name to be removed from the primary ballot and thus his withdrawal from the ballot will not be effective.
Election laws allow a political party to replace its nominee on the general election ballot when a vacancy occurs after the primary election. Therefore the Republican Party can name a substitute candidate for the office of Probate Judge. Any other person who wishes to run for the office may do so as a write-in, independent or minor party candidate by collecting the required petition signatures and filing a declaration of candidacy 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 30, 2016 in the County Clerk’s office.
For more information about the duties of the Probate Judge or responsibilities of Probate Court, visit http://www.losalamosnm.us/clerk/Pages/ProbateCourt.aspx
For information about being a write-in, independent or minor party candidate for Probate Judge and making a declaration of candidacy, please visit the New Mexico Secretary of State website (http://www.sos.state.nm.us/) or contact the County Clerk’s office at 505.662.8010.