To say that Frances Cases has been a reliable and conscientious public servant may be an understatement. It was January 1995 when she heard her first case as the City of Socorro’s Municipal Judge.
Cases had been appointed by Mayor Ravi Bhasker when the then-sitting judge Mike Trujillo died in December 1994. She has kept the bench ever since.
Cases publicly announced her retirement at the Wednesday, Oct. 5 Socorro City Council meeting. Welcoming Cases to the meeting, Mayor Ravi Bhasker said, “Here we are, and after how many years?”
“Well, in this building, after eight years of being on the city council, two years of being mayor pro tem. And going on 28 years of service for the judgeship,” she said. “I get up in the morning – when I know that I can get up – and I say you’ve come a long way baby.”
Cases began her public life when she was in her 30’s.
“I’ve been the type of person who has always been willing to be in public service so that I could be a voice for the people,” Cases said in an interview. “Even in school, I was always elected as a leader and as a spokesperson.
She said her interest in the law started while she was employed by Socorro Mental Heath, and received a grant for Teen Court training.
“I started the Teen Court in Socorro,” she said. “We had a person that was a defense attorney and the other attorney for prosecution and we had a jury of teenagers. It was all volunteer. We had sentences. That alone interested me quite a bit so when I was offered the Municipal Judge, I, more or less, was ready for a step up from the teen court. It was quite a step up.”
Cases ended up on the city council for two terms, two as Mayor Pro Tem.
“After that, I took some time off due to the death of my 15-year-old daughter, and then I went back and I ran for county commissioner and I lost by one vote.”
She took a break from everything and went on vacation after that. When she got back home, her husband Paul told her that the mayor had called saying, “Tell Frances to come back into my office.”
That’s when he offered her the position, she said, along with the commitment for her to run for the judgeship after serving out the remainder of Trujillo’s term.
“And I thought about it a lot because it to me was a very interesting job but also a very important job,” Cases said. “I’ve had a most interesting, comical, enjoyable and sometimes frightening experience of nearly 28 years.”
She recounted the many changes she has made over the years while running Municipal Court.
“I computerized the court for the first time,” Cases said. “I improved salaries for the clerks to encourage them to remain. There’s a lot of competition out there.”
She also undertook the responsibility of having the windows in the front office replaced to comply with fire regulations, “because I could just see the two clerks try to go out those little tiny windows if there was a fire.
“One of the changes that I have made is to try not to send everyone to jail. Why?” Cases said. “The more I talk to people and the more I hear what is going on in their life, there are a lot of people that have a serious drug problem. I don’t believe that there is any rehabilitation by sending someone to jail because they don’t pay their fines.
“The type of ordinances that they break, except for the ones that are alcohol or drug-related, is usually all traffic or are not the ones for animal control. They are breaking the laws because they are on drugs.
“Legally, I can’t just send people to rehab or to get some counseling. That’s for the bigger courts,” she said. “But I found a loophole. What I did is, I told them, ‘OK, instead of going to jail for seven days you could sign two letters. One, giving me permission to send you to get an assessment.’ The second one is, once they get the assessment, a treatment plan, they have to comply or, guess what, they go back to jail.
“So, it’s a win-win situation because the city doesn’t have to pay all that money for incarceration, and hopefully, the people have to comply just like they do in bigger courts,” Cases said. “This is what I’m doing with the drug problem. Now how do I know there’s a drug problem when they come in just for traffic?
“These people, I call them frequent flyers, are back over and over for the same thing,” she said. “I ask them what is going on in their life and they start talking to me and before I know it, they reveal that they have been on drugs or they are on drugs.”
She told the council that she has been proud to have served with honor and fairness in adjudicating cases.
“With a heavy heart and mixed emotions, I tend my notice of retirement as Municipal Judge on December 1st, 2021,” she read from her retirement letter. “I’ve enjoyed my work very much during all of these years and I’m proud that I have run the court without any embarrassment to myself, to the court, to the mayor, to the council members, and to the citizens of Socorro. I feel that I am leaving the office well prepared with an efficient staff, and believe I will leave the office more improved than I found it.”
“Your family and yourself have been a great asset to our community for sure, so thank you again,” Bhasker said.
On November 2, voters will be electing the next Municipal Judge for Socorro.
Vying for the position are Joseph Gonzales, Val Anaya and Joseph Gutierrez.
In general, the responsibilities for Municipal Court include:
- Providing adjudication of all violations of all city ordinances and criminal offenses
- Arraigning persons cited for Municipal Ordinances violations
- Accepting pleas
- Conducting trials
- Assessing fines and sentences to persons guilty of violating Municipal Ordinances
- Collecting and recording fines
- Answering questions related to the function of the court system
- Providing city administrators with information from the Court as necessary