Former law enforcement officials square off

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of stories about the upcoming Quay County primary elections. Today’s story focuses on the Democratic primary for the county’s magistrate judge position between Joel Garnett, Wayne Thibodeaux and Dennis Townsend.

A history in law enforcement and a determination to be fair-minded are qualities all three Democratic candidates are claiming for the county’s magistrate judge position.

Former Quay County Sheriff Joel Garnett, former Tucumcari Police Chief Dennis Townsend and former Quay County Sheriff Deputy Wayne “Charlie” Thibodeaux are seeking the party’s nomination for the position in the June 6 primary.

The winner will compete in the general election with incumbent judge Edwin Bruhn, who is running unopposed on the Republican ticket.

All three feel their time working as law enforcement officers and in other professions gives them a reasonable amount of qualifications to work with both the citizens who come through the court and the law enforcement officials who depend on a magistrate judge to help enforce laws.

“I believe the police are doing a good job, but the judge has to work with them,” said Thibodeaux, who works with the A.S. Horner, Inc., construction company. “I’m not saying that’s not the case right now. I’m just saying that’s what a judge has to do.”

In his experience with law enforcement, Thibodeaux said he would like to change the way the court operates. Though he said he isn’t aware of what measures he can legally take to achieve his goal, he would like to find a way to make “victimless” crimes like minor traffic violations go through the system faster so the judge can dedicate more time to bigger cases.

Thibodeaux said he also spent time as an investigator for the state public defenders’ department, and he realizes there are many cases where an innocent man can be a victim of circumstance in the court.

Townsend and Garnett said they could concur.

“Each case is going to have to be looked at on its own merits,” Townsend said.

Garnett said that not all of a judge’s decisions will be popular, but “a judge must be impartial (and) the burden of proof is on the state.”

Garnett, who raises greyhounds on his farm east of Tucumcari, said he has always had an intention to run for judge, but the timing was never right.

“I feel like I’ve got the experience in law enforcement,” Garnett said. “I also feel I’ve got credibility with the public. They’ve known me over the years to be a fair man.”

Townsend said a commitment to the public helped him make the decision to run. Townsend spent 30 years in law enforcement, including two stints with the Tucumcari Police Department. Townsend resigned at the end of 2004 after six years as chief and after months of public outcry and a petition seeking his removal.

Over the last few months, though, Townsend said many citizens have told him they still support him and want him back in some type of public position.

“I had some people come to me and talk to me about it,” said Townsend, currently a service manager at Don White D&A Auto Care. “They said with the experience I had, they couldn’t see it going to waste.”

Townsend said with his experience as a police chief, a move to a judge position wouldn’t be too difficult because much of the job requires the knowledge of state statutes that he was familiar with as a police officer.