Channel 7 President and General Manager Marry Lynn Roper did a community comment entitled “Fight for the DA’s Office to be properly funded”.
Ms. Roper asked viewers to contact the New Mexico legislature and help Bernalillo District Attorney Raul Torrez to secure an additional $5.4 million for his budget so he can hire 34 more prosecutors and 7 more investigators to deal with the crime crisis in New Mexico.
The Bereanlillo County Dsitrict Attorneys Office is the largest law firm in the state of New Mexico, it has an annual budget of $18.5 million, employs 300 people including upwards of 115 funded, full time prosecutors.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez is asking the state Legislature for a 30 percent increase to his current budget of $18.2 million, or a $5.4 million increase, to handle the felony case backlog.
Channel 13 Investigative Reporter Larry Barker also did a two-month KRQE investigative Report entitled “Justice Denied: Thousands of Albuquerque accused criminals are not prosecuted”
Torrez says a lack of resources is the reason his office cannot even come close to prosecuting all the pending felony cases in his office.
According to Torrez, there are simply too many criminals and not enough staff.
“If we don’t get sufficient resources in this legislative session I would think several thousand felony cases simply will become too old, too stale for us to act on. It’s not justice” Torrez told Larry Barker.
What Channel 7 and Channel 13 did not report nor reveal is that the state’s sunshine portal shows that Torrez has 45 unfilled positions in his office, 18 of which are unfilled attorney positions.
I’m all for giving the DA more resources, but what good is it if the people are not hired and positions are not filled.
Larry Barker reports that accused criminals, most of them repeat offenders, are handed “get out of jail free” cards courtesy of an underfunded and overloaded justice system.
At least Larry Barker recognized the problem is not just with the District Attorney’s office funding but includes the Courts and law enforcement.
WHAT GOOD ARE FUNDED POSITIONS IF NO ONE IS HIRED?
Mr. Torrez now wants funding from the 2018 New Mexico legislature for an additional 34 attorneys without explaining why he cannot fill the 18 attorney vacancies he has.
Torrez has given no explanation how he is going to recruit so many more prosecutors to go work for him while competing with other District Attorney offices in the state.
What is known for sure is that Mr. Torrez is hiring retired Assistant District Attorneys and retired former Assistant United States Attorneys, some on contract, and paying them anywhere from $75,000 to $125,000 a year which is significantly more than entry level positions that pay between $45,000 to $50,000 a year.
Torrez has hired retired prosecutors on contract to review the backlog of 32 officer involved shootings with only a few of those cases cleared for no prosecution within the last year.
Retired Assistant District Attorneys who have been given contracts are paid PERA pensions and cannot “double dip” so instead of suspending their pensions, they are paid on contract to collect both their pension and contract amounts.
What is troubling is that Torrez may be using salary savings from unfilled positions in order to hire people on contract which may be a violation of the personnel rules and regulations of the Office of District Attorneys Association.
WANT SOME WHINE WITH THAT CHEESE?
Bernalillo County District Raul Torrez has been in office over a year.
By all news accounts, he wants to prosecute violent crime and repeat offenders to bring down our crime rates.
During the past year, Torrez has gotten considerable press from the Albuquerque Journal and the local TV news agencies complaining about lack of resources, lack of personnel and blaming the Court’s and law enforcement for our high crime rates.
Torrez lost a lot of support from the courts, and some would say his credibility, when he blamed the Courts for all of our high crime rates.
Less than six months after being sworn in as Bernalillo County District Attorney, Raul Torres blamed the New Mexico Supreme Court’s Case Management Order (CMO) for Albuquerque’s increasing crime rates.
The CMO was necessitated by the fact that so many defendants were awaiting arraignments or trials and being held in the Bernalillo County Detention Center, or jail, for months, and at times years, to the point that the jail was becoming severely overcrowded exceeding its capacity of approximately 2,200 inmates.
Torrez had his District Attorney Office issue a report that outlined the so-called problems he perceived since the issuance of the Case Management Order by the Supreme Court in February, 2015.
The main points of the DA’s report was that defense attorneys were “gaming” the court mandated discovery deadlines under the CMO to get cases dismissed by demanding evidence they are entitled to under the law and the Rules of Criminal Procedure and asking for trials instead of entering into plea agreements.
The Judges strongly disputed the Torrez report.
In response to the Torrez report, the Courts did their own case review of statistics and found out the it was the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office that was dismissing the majority of cases.
The Case Management Order (CMO) has since been amended and Torres and the Courts seem to be getting along much better.
The problem is that Torrez does not seem to understand fully that the prosecution of any crime demands full cooperation of law enforcement, the public defender’s office and the courts.
The criminal justice system is very much like a chain in that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Instead of advocating for increase funding and personnel not only for his office, Torrez ignored how underfunded and poorly staffed the Courts, the public defender office as well as all law enforcement are in the State Of New Mexico.
One day District Attorney Raul Torrez is going to learn that constant whining and complaining about lack of resources and personnel may generate a lot of publicity but it is no substitute for making tough decisions, attracting dedicated people to fill positions to run an office and doing a good job.
Until Torrez learns a lesson on leadership, someone needs to give him some cheese to go with all his constant whining and complaining.