After a dramatic March primary, when two of the four Democratic candidates for the 327th Judicial District Court drew fire stemming from past social media posts, the runoff election between Chris Daniel Anchondo and Monique Velarde Reyes is, so far, drama-free.
“The word I keep hearing is ‘boring,’” Velarde Reyes said with a laugh, as she described the runoff. “I never thought I’d like boring, but boring works for me.”
The crowded four-way Democratic primary in March followed two decades of uncontested elections for the 327th District Court, which is one of the few courts in El Paso that handles only civil cases. Velarde and Anchondo finished in first and second place, respectively, with Velarde taking roughly 31% of the nearly 38,500 votes cast, and Anchondo taking second with 29% — a difference of 729 votes.
Because neither broke 50%, the two now head to a May 24 runoff. And with no Republican challengers, this race will determine who takes over the bench for retiring Judge Linda Chew.
Early voting lasts from May 16 to May 20.
Anchondo, 40, holds 14 years of legal experience in private practice with his father in civil, family, criminal and probate cases. He comes from a well-known El Paso political family and has run and applied for judicial appointments at least twice in the past. He has stressed his civil trial experience as a counterpoint to the judicial experience held by Velarde Reyes, 45, who has been the sole municipal court judge for the City of Socorro since 2016.
As a judge, Velarde has continued to run her own private law practice, handling criminal defense, probate and domestic violence cases, along with cases involving DWIs and traffic violations. In 2018, Velarde lost the Democratic primary for the 210th Judicial District Court.
El Paso Matters spoke to both candidates ahead of early voting. Each described a friendly and respectful dynamic throughout the runoff, and both say the race now comes down to experience — just different kinds.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
El Paso Matters: What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
Anchondo: The biggest difference is that — and she’s said as much, too, on the Westside Democrats candidate forum — that she’s never done a civil trial before. And I have. When it comes down to experience for this civil court, I have the trial experience in civil litigation that she doesn’t.
There’s a difference between doing just criminal trials versus civil trials. I do both. I understand the difference between the two and how they can be vastly different from each other.
Velarde Reyes: Really, it comes down to experience. I have the judicial experience needed for this position. I’ve been a judge for going on six years now. I understand what’s needed to be able to run the court. It’s not just knowing the law, it’s all the behind-the-scenes things that people don’t actually realize judges have to do until they’re on the bench.
We have to be able to prepare our calendars in a way to be able to handle as many cases as possible without ignoring anyone, while still giving the time needed for each case. We also need to make sure that we’re within budget. You’ve just got to make sure that the lights stay on and the water’s running.
El Paso Matters: What else do you want to highlight about yourself to voters?
Anchondo: I try to be a down to earth individual. I want people to know that they will be heard, their cases will be heard. They’re not coming to court because something good has happened generally. It’s important for people to understand that I want to be fair to them, I want to hear them, and I want to respect what’s going on in their lives.
Velarde Reyes: My community service. As an attorney, I handle my practice. As a judge, I’m on the bench. But I’m also out there with the community as much as I can be, trying to stay involved as much as possible. I’ve helped with veterans’ issues; I’ve done mentorships with students .My husband is on dialysis and so I have joined organizations regarding the importance of health care in our community. I am also a part of an organization through the Texas Bar Association where what we do is help attorneys in need, and judges for that matter: Attorneys who are suffering through depression, substance abuse issues, sometimes they just need somebody to talk to, cognitive decline for aging attorneys. We’re here to provide the resources for these attorneys before anything happens and they affect themselves or their clients. And then, I am a part of so many Democratic organizations.
El Paso Matters: How much civil case experience do you have? What specific type of civil cases have you worked on?
Anchondo: With regards to civil litigation, I’ve handled everything from ad litem appointments on friendly lawsuits, to multimillion dollar cases. My first case out of law school was working on a case here in El Paso with the railroad (Union Pacific Railroad Company v Torres). At the time, that was one of the biggest verdicts on a wrongful death case that El Paso County had seen. More recently, in 2015, I was part of (our firm’s) team that worked on the Morga v. FedEx case, which is still on appeal. But that’s one of the largest judgments in New Mexico on a wrongful death case.
I’ve done cases, with regards to trials, with businesses being sued; trials between business associates that had a partnership that went wrong. Those are cases that we’ve been plaintiff’s on — the party that’s bringing the action. But I’ve also defended cases as well. Cases against a trucking company that was being sued, a roofer that was being sued by a hospice. So I’m very well versed on both the plaintiff side as well as the defense side when it comes to civil matters.
Velarde Reyes: I’ve worked with wrongful termination; I handled an election fraud civil case a few years ago; various landlord disputes; a couple of credit card disputes, mostly behind the scenes helping people. Those have been the civil cases that I’ve handled.
Civil cases involve a lot of paperwork (for) an attorney — there’s so much, from discovery to the writing of the documents, to keeping everything in track. And so as a solo practitioner, I found it more difficult to just be a civil attorney than to handle other types of cases as well. Because of the time commitment that (civil cases) take, I wasn’t handling as many as other people would. If I didn’t think that I could give 100% of my time to (a potential client’s) case, I didn’t think it was fair for me to take them. And I wanted to make sure that they had their case handled appropriately. So sometimes I would send them out to other attorneys.
El Paso Matters: What has your campaign strategy been like since the runoff election began? Has it changed at all since the primaries?
Anchondo: (I’ve been) going door to door, sending out mailers, going to senior citizen centers, going onto the Democratic forums, visiting with anybody I can meet.
When it comes to the judicial races, it comes down to experience. It’s different from your city reps (race) or anything where the legislative issues are more at hand — what’s their beliefs, how are they going to work, things like that. It differs in that sense. So when it comes down to judicial races, I think the experience is what I play on more than anything.
Velarde Reyes: My strategies (in the primary and the runoff) have been the same, which has been mostly meeting people. I think it’s important, and it tends to be a surprise to people, when they actually have a judge come to the door to talk to them.
And so the difference this time from the first time is just reminding people that there is a runoff election and that it’s important to exercise that vote. It’s becoming more and more difficult to go out there and to vote, just from the various rules that have been kind of changed and the procedures, but it’s still one of the easiest things to do, to be able to be part of the process. We all like to complain. But if we don’t actually try to make that change, well, it’s just words. So this time around, I’ve really stressed the importance of voting, of going out there. Obviously, I want people to support me, but even if they’re not — just go out there to vote. And it’s so hard because nobody cares about judgeships until they have to be in front of one.