Two candidates are hoping to serve as Probate Judge in Socorro County, a race that will be decided by the Democratic primary in June.

Probate is the process for transferring property of someone who has died. Probate court jurisdiction includes admitting wills to informal probate, appointing personal representatives to manage and settle the deceased person’s affairs and estate, appointing special administrators for estates and issuing certificates of full administration of the estate. Probate judges can also perform marriages in their county. Probate Court handles undisputed cases. Contested cases and trust matters are filed in District Court. Probate judges are part-time.

Gilbert Peralta

Gilbert Peralta

Gilbert Peralta grew up in Socorro, got his bachelor’s in political science at New Mexico State University studying justice, political philosophy and law, and worked as a principal, teacher and coach in Socorro schools for 30 years before retiring almost five years ago. He also has an associate’s in criminal justice and a master’s in education administration.

“I’ve attained a lot of good administrative skills during that time, so strategic thinking is one that came to mind, time management, organization, leadership. I have strong written and verbal communication skills. I’m a good problem solver,” said Peralta.

He served as a public education commissioner for two terms. The Public Education Commission was the advisory board to the state Secretary of Education.

Peralta said he wants to serve as Probate Judge because he never put into practice the knowledge he learned in his undergraduate studies and he wants to give back to his community.

“People that know me, know that I’m honest,” he said. “I’m people-oriented. I care about this community. I’ve been here all my life. I’m about helping families in times of need. I’m also accessible.”

Peralta does not have direct experience related to the legal field or managing estates or wills, but he said he believes his experience in the education field and as an administrator has prepared him with problem-solving skills. He expects to learn on the job by talking to good mentors and using common sense.

“I think the future of the probate court is one that should embrace technologies, as we know the technology world is one that just keeps on growing at a fast rate. So, I think things from e-filing services to expanding opportunities for video conference hearings, whether they’re in place already, I can expand on that, improve on that. And if they’re not in place it’s something that I would definitely want to bring in to the office.”

He thinks the role is really about listening to families and being compassionate in decision-making.

Dawn Weaver

Dawn Weaver

Dawn Weaver has been married to Socorro’s current probate judge Darryl Cases for 29 years. Watching him serve as probate judge for the last seven years piqued her interest in the position.

“At first I thought, oh my God that’s got to be a boring job, but it actually isn’t. There’s so many different situations,” said Weaver.

Weaver was born in Socorro, grew up out of state and moved back for her senior year of high school. She got her bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of New Mexico. Weaver is a ranch owner along with her husband and has worked as an office assistant, bookkeeper, security guard, research assistant and EMT dispatcher. She also served on the Socorro Consolidated School District Board of Education from 2012 to 2015.

“I think just being on the School Board taught me that you’ve got to be really careful with what you say,” she said. “You don’t really give your opinion—you just kind of state the facts. That’s similar with probate. You’re not allowed to give legal advice. You’re just allowed to give legal information.”

Weaver said she wants to serve as probate judge because she thinks she’d be good at it, in part because she’s seen her husband do the job and learned about how the probate court functions. Weaver does not have direct legal experience but believes her exposure to judges in her family will make her more prepared for the position.

“Having a good judge trained quickly can actually help people save money,” she said. “Otherwise they might end up having to hire an attorney.”

Weaver does not plan to make any significant changes to the running of the probate court.

“It’s a very small budget. The only thing I would do is maybe get a new printer. The people, the clerks, they already know what to do. It’s not controversial.”

She thinks one of the most important things is for a probate judge to be accessible and would probably hold office hours.

“When you’re accessible to people, I think it gives them peace of mind,” she said.

Also in the Democratic primary: Roscoe Woods is running unopposed for District Court Judge in the Seventh Judicial District, Division 2 and Felix William Saavedra is running unopposed for Magistrate Judge. The primary elections are June 7. Early voting is available.