NMHU DISTINGUISHED ALUMNUS AWARD
Damian Martinez is a newly appointed United States Magistrate Judge for the District of New Mexico. And although he says there isn’t a direct career path to becoming a federal judge, Martinez’s journey to becoming one began at NMHU.
Martinez began his college career at UNM, but when his dad was deployed to the Gulf War, he returned home to Las Vegas to be with his family and transferred to NMHU. This dedication to family and to his community was evident early on, even before he chose to major in social work at Highlands.
“I went to law school after I got my degree at NMHU because both social work and law are helping professions,” Martinez said. “From there I was an Assistant Staff Judge Advocate and Captain in the Air Force and then went into private practice. How that led to becoming a federal judge is sort of like winning the lottery. You have to be in the right place at the right time.”
Martinez graduated from NMHU in 1998 and is one of many in his family who attended the school, including his grandmother, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, siblings, and later, his son. He describes NMHU in the ‘90s as a lively place where a lot was happening.
“I met my wife at NMHU, and a lot of great friends who are still friends to this day,” Martinez said. “There was a vibrant social life on campus, and everybody generally got along. The Purple Pub was not a computer lab—it was an actual dance club.”
Martinez credits the professors at Highlands for giving him an excellent education.
“The professors were great, even if they weren’t in my area of study,” Martinez said. “Dr. Muller and Dr. Coca were very helpful while I was at Highlands and everyone in the Social Work department—Dr. Villa, Delfino Trujillo, all of them were great.”
In his role as a federal magistrate judge for New Mexico, Martinez oversees cases that deal with the United States Constitution, federal statutes, and what are known as diversity cases because they involve plaintiffs and attorneys who are citizens of different states. He says he couldn’t do it all without the integral help he receives from his clerks.
“Currently, I have civil rights cases, I have medical malpractice cases, I have some employment law issues under the Fair Labor Standards Act. I have a car wreck case because it’s a diversity case,” Martinez said. “And then, of course, there are criminal cases that come through the federal courts. These can range from drug cases to human smuggling cases.”
Hard work and dedication are the values Martinez lives by and he believes anyone with a strong work ethic can get where they want to go.
“Highlands is a great school. A lot of people put a premium on what school you attend, but I don’t think it matters if you’re willing to put in the hard work,” Martinez said. “There are a tremendous number of individuals I know who have gone to Highlands who have become successful.”