By Gabriel Weinstein
Staff writer, Sangre Chronicle
Published:Friday, March 14, 2014 5:06 AM MDT
EAGLE NEST — At age 24, Eagle Nest’s new Municipal Judge Ashlee Rose Mills is believed to be the youngest elected official in the village’s history.
Mills defeated former Colfax County commissioner William Bowers for the municipal judgeship on a vote of 77-36 during the March 4 municipal election.
Mills said she has been interested in the criminal justice system for as long as she can remember. She first started watching cartoons about crime fighters and then eventually began to follow criminal justice events in the news.
Her interest in the field was ignited during her junior year of high school, when she was following a news story about a lawsuit involving pedophilia. The judge in the case made a controversial decision, which bothered Mills. She then vowed to go to law school and advocate for victims.
“I decided then and there if I wanted to make a positive impact on the state, I needed to be involved with the law. I needed to be the change I want to see,” she said. “I wanted to be the one that would defend the victim and use the evidence to defend the victim to ensure the victim got justice. I want to be the voice for the victim that was killed.”
Mills is finishing up her bachelor’s degree at the University of New Mexico and has applied to the university’s law school. A lifelong New Mexican, Mills said UNM law was her first choice. She was drawn to the school because she felt it presented the best opportunity to establish herself professionally in New Mexico and become familiar with the state’s laws.
If she is admitted to law school, Mills plans to commute between Albuquerque and Eagle Nest and build her school schedule around her court dates. The 3.5-hour commute does not faze Mills.
“I think the greatest thing is never be afraid of work. Take it on. I don’t want to hold myself back thinking that it could be exhausting. Be determined, don’t hold yourself back, be committed,” she said.
When she becomes a lawyer, Mills said, she hopes to focus on criminal law. Much of her college coursework focused on the criminal justice system. She majored in criminology and took numerous courses in the field. Mills’ passion for the criminal justice system stems from her admiration of Edmund Burke’s quote: “Evil only triumphs when good people do nothing.”
Mills’ long-term goal is to become the New Mexico attorney general. But right now all of her energy is focused on serving as Eagle Nest’s municipal judge. Though she might be spending a good portion of her week in Albuquerque in the future, Mills decided she did not want to wait to run for the position.
“There is no time like the present to jump-start the future,” she said. “I didn’t want to wait another four years. You have to really grab life by the horns and hold it when you can.”
For Mills, being a municipal judge will complement the academic legal training she hopes to pursue. Mills said immersing herself in the village’s laws and ruling mostly on misdemeanors will help her when she eventually takes on more complicated legal quandaries as a prosecuting attorney.
“Everything is starting at square one,” she said.
The opportunity to serve as judge proved to Mills that people do not necessarily have to leave their hometowns to be successful. In college, she said, there is a strong belief that students can not succeed where they grew up.
“I never wanted to live anywhere else. There are great people and fantastic opportunities,” she said. “I want to make sure Eagle Nest continues and make sure my children enjoy the scenery and have a wonderful hometown to grow up in.”