Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was asking the state Legislature for a 30 percent increase to his current budget of $18.2 million, or a $5.4 million increase.
Torrez wanted the 30% increase in his budget to hire an additional 34 attorneys.
Torrez has said 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 has said in the past interviews.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office employs 300 full time personnel which includes 118 full time attorney positions.
DA Torrez currently has 45 vacant positions which includes 18 vacant attorney positions that he has not been able to fill in the last year he has been in office.
The House Appropriations Committee recommended a $2.3 million increase in the Bernalillo County District Attorney budget.
When the House version of the budget went to the Senate Appropriation Committee Chaired by Senator John Author Smith, the appropriation was increased to $4.2 million at the insistence of the Bernalillo County delegation.
The net result is that Torrez secured a $2 million increase for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office from the Senate Appropriations committee.
Torrez now has a $21.5 million-dollar budget to run his office.
Frankly, I seriously doubt District Attorney Torrez will be satisfied given his past statements and constant complaints and accusing the courts and defense attorneys for our high crime rates.
During his campaign for election, he said our criminal justice system was broken.
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.
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.
With his successful effort to increase in his budget, the ball is now in District Attorney Torrez’s court and he will have to produce.
Senator John Author Smith sent Torrez a very strong message by actually saying on camera in an interview many feel Torrez has now been given enough rope to hang himself with the increase in budget.
Senator Smith also noted Torrez is still very new to the job and the verdict is still out if he is capable of managing the office and producing results.
If there are no real results over the next year in hiring and filling the vacant positions and clearing out the felony case backlog, Torrez will be hard pressed to justify any more increases in his budget and his management of the office will be questioned.
Further, Mr. Torrez’s constant complaining during his first year in office of lack of resources and personnel will no doubt fall on deaf ears and come back to haunt him, especially when he runs for reelection and if there is no serious reduction in the backlog of felony violent cases and a reduction in crime rates as he promised.
As Senator Smith put it, the Jury is still out on DA Torrez management of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office.
We will have to wait a full year for the verdict during the 2019 legislative session if Torrez is successful in reducing the criminal case backload in the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office, but given his past mode of operation and attraction to TV news cameras, do not be surprised if he says he still does not have enough resources to do his job.