By David Stevens
Retired Clovis police Det. Bart Bartosiewicz remembers the first time he encountered Bill Bonem, a young criminal defense attorney with a low-key, laid-back personality.
“I thought, ‘We’re gonna walk all over this guy,’” Bartosiewicz said.
“Then in that first case, he ate our lunch. And we said, ‘Hey. This guy needs to be reckoned with.’”
Bonem, who practiced law in eastern New Mexico for 40 years, died Tuesday morning in Waco, Texas, where he’d lived the past two years to be near his sister.
A Tucumcari native, he served as a criminal defense attorney, then as a prosecutor before retiring as a Clovis-Portales district judge in 2002.
Friends said he had recently contracted pneumonia and was in hospice care.
He was 75.
Bartosiewicz said Bonem was one of the best prepared lawyers he’s ever known.
“He was very meticulous in his case preparation,” he said.
“Officers would bring him a case and if (the evidence) wasn’t there, he’d tell you that you needed to go back and do this or go back and do that.”
Bartosiewicz said Bonem was an impartial jurist, no matter which side of the law he worked on.
“He just liked law,” he said. “He was always in the books. If there was a question, he’d just say, ‘Let’s go look it up.’”
After work, and during work, Bonem’s attention was often focused on children.
He’s credited with starting eastern New Mexico’s Teen Court.
He served on committees that helped establish statutes for juvenile law still in effect today, according to his friend Caleb Chandler, a longtime police officer and state lawmaker.
In 2006, he helped open the Bonem Home in Portales, which offers residential counseling to children with post-traumatic mental health disabilities.
Craig Limmer, a retired probation officer, said he coached Little League baseball with Bonem for decades.
He remembers one phone call in particular that mixed youth baseball with Bonem-style justice.
Bonem had learned a recent parolee with a history of child abuse was coaching a T-ball team.
“He called me and (police detective) Leon Morris and said, ‘This is the situation: Tell this coach his services are no longer needed.’”
So Limmer and Morris drove to a Clovis practice field, with a new coach in the back seat of their car, and relieved the parolee of his coaching duties.
Limmer said Bonem had instructed them to keep everything low key.
“We stepped out of the car, Leon walked over to him, said whatever Detective Morris needed to say, we let the new coach out of the car and everything was well,” Limmer said.
“(Bonem) had the welfare of the kids at heart. He didn’t want to make the kids nervous. He didn’t want to cause a scene. He just wanted to make sure they were safe. He instituted background checks for coaches at that point.”
That’s how Bonem did everything, his friends said: quietly, thoughtfully, focused on society’s best interests.
“He had all the qualities you want to see in a judge,” Chandler said.
“He was patient, very thoughtful, very open minded, he didn’t start forming decisions until the end of a case. He was one of the most respected judges in the state.”
Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at First United Methodist Church in Clovis.
Burial will be in Portales.