On Sunday, September 9, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal did a front-page article accompanied by a two-page spread story on pages A-6 and A-7 on Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez complete with flattering color photos and even one with him petting an “assistance” dog.
The 3 Albuquerque Journal headlines read “FACE TO FACE WITH RAUL TORREZ”, ‘Remember who you’re fighting for’, “DA Raul Torrez says it’s all about justice for victims”.
Torrez himself could have not written any better headlines.
Congratulations are in order to Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez for the newspaper coverage and in effect his endorsement for re-election.
You can read the entire article at the below link.
A Democrat getting such glowing coverage from the Republican leaning Albuquerque Journal is a standalone accomplishment worth noting.
The headlines and the article raised a few eyebrows and numerous questions amongst the political parties and political commentators of why now and what was the papers true motivations behind it.
To a number of political commentators, the fact that the entire article was written by Senior Editor Kent Walz makes it clear that the Albuquerque Journal has now taken an active interest in promoting the career of Raul Torrez, much like it did with former Mayor Richard Berry, with Torrez now being a regular on the front page of the Journal.
JOURNAL ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS
The article spends a considerable amount of “ink” on Mr. Torrez’s personal background with such titles as “HOOPS AND PANCAKES”, “ACADEMICS”, “FAMILY LEGACY” and “ITS PERSONAL”.
The article reports on Mr. Torrez early years as a prosecutor, a case he tried that affected him involving a child, and the challenges the office faced when he assumed office.
The problems Torrez was reported to have found were a huge backlog of felony cases, staff vacancies, inadequate information technology capabilities, and a sour relationship between the DA’s office and the Albuquerque Police Department.
According to the report, Torrez knew the DA’s Office had been overwhelmed with an explosion in uncharged felony cases that followed a state Supreme Court order imposing tough new time restrictions on cases.
The New Mexico Supreme Court order was issued in part for the reason that defendants were sitting in jail for years, awaiting trial because they could not afford bail and the jail was severely overcrowded.
The article reports that Torrez’s relationship with the District Court Judges in the 2nd Judicial District can be described “as rocky at best.”
Torrez has battled with the District Court over the issue of pretrial detentions, arguing that too many dangerous defendants have been released under various restrictions when they should be held in jail pending trial.
Torrez accused the District Court and the Supreme Court’s case management order (CMO) for being the root cause for the dramatic increase in crime and the dismissal of cases.
Missing from the Journal article is the fact Torrez had his office prepare a damaging statistical report showing it was the District Court dismissing cases and contributing to high crime rates.
The claim made by Torrez was later totally discredited by a District Court report reviewing all dismissals and it showed it was the DA’s office that was dismissing the majority of cases on its own and not the Court.
Torrez also accused defense attorneys of “gaming the system” to get defendants off on “technicalities”.
District Attorney Torrez has become embroiled in a battle with the District Court over grand jury time.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office relies heavily on grand juries to charge people with felonies as opposed to preliminary hearings where a District Judge decides if probable cause exists to charge a defendant.
The 2nd District Court is the only judicial district in New Mexico that relies extensively on grand juries as opposed to preliminary hearings to charge defendants with felony crimes.
Preliminary hearings have been recommended as a “best practices” approach by national experts and Court Administrative organizations.
The District Court had announced it was going to cut back dramatically the use of grand juries and switch to a preliminary hearing process.
District Attorney Raul Torrez strongly opposed reducing the grand jury time available arguing it would make launching new criminal cases far more challenging and far more resource intensive.
As a result of the strong objections from Torrez as well as an aggressive editorial from the Journal opposing the plan, the District Court cut back and delayed its plans to switch to preliminary hearing until 2019.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
As an introduction to the article, the following Editor’s note appeared:
“Editor’s note: Raúl Torrez has made waves since taking over as district attorney in Bernalillo County last year, clashing with judges, administrators and sometimes lawmakers, as he pushes to remake the DA’s Office and ramp up the fight against crime.”
The Editor’s Note bordered on an apology for what you were about to read with the Journal editor’s noting the clashes with others, yet not reporting in any great detail the extent of those clashes, except the clashes with the courts.
The article can only be considered as a “candidate soft profile” intentionally void of any critical analysis of District Attorney Raul Torrez first two years in office, the kind of job he is doing managing the office nor leadership he is providing to the office.
Although the Editor’s Note says he is pushing “to remake the DA’s Office and ramp up the fight against crime” the article contains nothing substantive and no critical analysis of what Mr. Torrez has accomplished during his almost two years in office.
The article contains no information on the reduction of the backlog of cases Mr. Torrez found, staff vacancies filled, progress made in improving the inadequate information technology capabilities and if relationships have improved with all law enforcement.
There is not a single comment in the article from the APD Chief, the Bernalillo County Sheriff nor from the New Mexico State Police Chief regarding their satisfaction with the job Torrez is doing with their department cases.
There is not a single quote commenting on Mr. Torrez’s job performance since taking office from any District Court Judge, the Court of Appeals that handles all criminal appeals from his office, nor the New Mexico Supreme Court, nor comments from his predecessor nor any comments from other District Attorneys in the state as to how he is doing.
The article contains no comments from any of the Deputy District Attorneys or Senior Trial Attorneys who have been with the office before he arrived and who now work for him to compare the before and after.
The article contains no critical analysis or commentary from the Public Defender’s Office nor from any prominent criminal defense attorney in the State that deals with the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office.
When the Journal “Editorial Note” said that Torrez has clashed “sometimes with legislators”, it was a very weak understatement of what happened in the 2018 legislative session.
Since assuming office, Torrez has constantly complained that his office does not have sufficient resources to do the job.
To Torrez’s credit, he was able to secure a $3.5 million dollar increase in his office budget during the 2018 legislature session and it went from $18 million to $21.5 million a year over the objections of Senator John Arthur Smith, the Chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
The increase in budget was the largest increase of any District Attorney Office in the state prompting resentment from other District Attorneys.
Senator John Arthur Smith sent Torrez a very strong message by actually saying on camera in an interview that many feel Torrez was given “enough rope to hang himself” with the increase in his office budget.
Senator Smith also noted Torrez was still very new to the job and the verdict was still out if he is capable of managing the office and producing results.
What was not reported by the Journal is the fact Mr. Torrez still has a serious personnel problem within the office that he has failed to solve.
During the legislative session, Torres had 45 vacancies.
Torrez now has 55 vacant positions that are fully funded.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney Office is the largest law firm in the State of New Mexico employing 315 full time employees including attorneys, paralegals, administrative assistants, victim advocates, investigators, IT managers and personnel and finance divisions.
Effective July 1,2018, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez has a $21.5 million-dollar budget to run the office.
More than half of the District Attorney’s $21. 5 million budgets is dedicated to salaries with the budget for salaries now at $13,523,842.35.
According to the State of New Mexico Government Sunshine Portal the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office since mid-August has 315 fully funded full-time personnel position.
Of the 315 full positions funded, only 260 positions are filled.
There are 21 vacant attorney positions.
According to the New Mexico State Government Sunshine Portal, among the vacant positions with salaries listed include:
1 Chief Deputy District Attorney, $97,281.60 yearly salary.
1 Deputy District Attorney: $88,046.39 yearly salary.
10 Senior Trial Attorney positions: $79,684 yearly salary.
2 Assistant Trial Attorney positions: $65,270.39 yearly salary.
12 Legal Secretary positions: $33,238.39 yearly salary.
7 Trial Attorney positions: $72,113.60 yearly salary.
5 Prosecution Specialists: $49,545.60
1 Chief Financial Officer/Manager: $79,684.79 yearly salary.
1 Financial Specialist: $36,712.00 yearly salary
3 Program Administrator: $65,270.39 yearly salary.
5 Program Assistants: $33,238.39 yearly salary.
3 Secretary positions: $30,076.80 yearly salary.
1 Victim Witness Assistant: $44,824 yearly salary.
1 IT Administrator: $49,545.60 yearly salary.
1 Clerk position: $27,227.19 yearly salary.
1 Clerk Apprentice: $24,627.19 yearly salary.
In the event that Torrez does not fill any one of the vacant positions, the money will revert back to the State General Fund and will likely be cut by the New Mexico legislature in the 2019 legislative session.
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez employs at least 2 special prosecutors on $75,000 contracts each who are retired prosecutors and are tasked with reviewing the backlog of police officer involved shooting cases
The Journal article failed to report any information on the review and clearing out of some 32 police officer involved shooting cases and if the shootings were justified and if the police officers will not be charged.
Sources are saying there is a huge turn over in the office to the point Torrez is now trying to fill positions by recruiting from other DA offices in the state.
Confidential sources within the office are saying that the office is top heavy with management that do not carry any caseloads, morale is low, and the office has become very “cliquish” with Torrez awarding his favorites with the highest salaries and that most attorney offices in the DA’s office after 3:00 pm in the afternoon are vacant with no one to be found.
The New Mexico State Government Sunshine Portal confirms that the Torrez DA office is “top heavy” with management positions.
District Attorney Raul Torrez employs Deputy District Attorneys, Senior Trial Attorneys, Trial Attorneys and Assistant Trial Attorneys earning as low as $53,287.32 and as high as $115,791.01 in base salaries depending on the positions held.
Fifty-two attorneys are paid more than $60,000 a year, thirty-eight are paid more than $70,000 a year, thirty-one are paid more than $83,000 a year, and 16 are paid more than $90,000 a year.
Forty-two attorneys are paid less than $60,000 a year.
There are 40 trial attorneys and are entry level positions with their average pay at $53,287.32.
There is no doubt the Albuquerque Journal front page Sunday article can be taken as complete affirmation by the Albuquerque Journal of all things being good with District Attorney Raul Torrez.
The problem is that the article cannot be taken at all as serious by citizens or voters as a reflection or an analysis of the kind of job Mr. Torrez is actually doing as District Attorney and if things have gotten any better under his watch.
Torrez downplayed in the article any suggestion that he has ambitions for higher office.
The one thing that would have conclusively dispelled all rumors of ambition for higher office is if Raul Torrez had announced he intends to run for reelection as District Attorney in 2020.
For other news articles and blog articles on District Attorney Raul Torrez see: