Since 1997, the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court’s Recovery Court Program, known by many as Drug Court, has been a leader in addressing the community concerns of repeat DWI offenders.
The Metropolitan Recovery Court Program is a highly critical program that has an impact on people’s lives by offering repeat DWI offenders a chance at rehabilitation and recovery instead of incarceration.
The highly successful program blends judicial oversight by a program judge, supervision by probation officers, a designated court calendar, use of incentives to reward and improve performance, graduated sanctions for non–compliance, and comprehensive substance abuse treatment and ancillary services to address causative factors associated with DWI.
The program has been a key component in the Metropolitan Court’s efforts to enhance community safety, promote evidence–based practices for offender accountability, and support offender rehabilitation.
The DWI Recovery Court program team consists of one judge, seven probation officers, a program manager, and a programs division director.
Metropolitan Court Judge Edward L Benavidez is the Chief Judge of the Metropolitan Court.
Judge Benavidez has been a judge at Metropolitan Court for the past 10 years.
For the past 4 years, Judge Benavidez has worked with and presided over the Recovery Court Program while at the same time carrying out his duties as presiding judge and a full case load.
Following is a guest commentary by Judge Edward L. Benavidez:
JUDGE EDWARD L. BENAVIDEZ GUEST COMMENTARY
“Repeat DWI offenders who are facing from 90-364 days in jail have the
option of entering into the program instead of going to jail. The
program is an intensive rehabilitation process that demands sobriety,
maintaining employment, and involves a commitment to counseling in an
effort to make the participants responsible members of society who no
longer endanger themselves and our community.
The program runs for a minimum of fourteen months. There are five
phases that must be completed prior to graduation. Depending on
success with phase requirements, participants transfer phases every
three months. Participants are sentenced at the end of the program
which involves suspension of any jail jurisdiction that remains.
The first phase is the toughest. Participants are responsible for
attending AA or another community-based support group three times
weekly. They must work at least 28 hours per week or perform
community service. They are required to attend group and individual
counseling session with our contracted counselors. They are required
to check in weekly with their probation officer at Metro Court and
they meet with the Court every two weeks in our open court sessions.
The court sessions are open to the public and it is a forum where the
individuals progress is publicly discussed.
As participants move from phase to phase the requirements are
lessened. Graduations are the culmination of a hard-earned program
where participants have demonstrated the ability to maintain sobriety
and in effect have recovered their lives. The road to recovery and
graduation can be difficult. Sometimes participants experience
relapses and miss program requirements. These issues are dealt with
by sanctions that include additional community service hours and
increased counseling and testing as warranted.
Our success with the program is measured by recidivism, which is the
number of graduates that pick up a new DWI charges after graduation.
After four years into the program, our recidivism rate is at 4.4
percent. I have had 327 graduates with only 13 people having
reoffended to this point. Nationally, the drug court recidivism rate
is about 7 per cent.
Alcohol and drug abuse touch many people. Anyone who is reading
this likely knows of a friend or family member who has struggled.
Many people suffer trauma of some sort that can lead to alcohol and
drug abuse. Fortunately, Metropolitan Court offers help.
Aside from the community safety benefits and recovery of the
participants, the program creates huge tax dollar saving to the
citizens of Bernalillo county. The program costs $17.00 a day to run
as opposed to $120.00 a day to incarcerate someone at the Metropolitan
With an average of one-hundred participants in the program at any
given time, the tax dollars saved are over one million dollars
annually. The funding to run the program is primarily obtained
through Federal Grants.
Open court sessions are in Courtroom 700 at the Bernalillo County
Metropolitan Court on Thursday mornings of every week. Drug court
rehabilitation is the key to reducing criminal recidivism, creating a
safer community, and saving millions of taxpayer dollars. I would
personally, extend an invitation to any of you who are interested to
attend a session. Your thoughts and comments are welcome.”
JUDGE EDWARD L. BENAVIDEZ
Chief Judge of the Metropolitan Court.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Metropolitan Court Judges are initially elected in partisan elections to full terms and then after serving the term, they must go before voters for retention.
Every election cycle where Judges appear on the ballot, the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission evaluates judges by sending out confidential surveys to lawyers, court jurors and others who interact with the court to grade the Judges and the Commission then rates the judges and recommends to voters who they should vote to retain.
All to often, Judges who run afoul of certain segments of the New Mexico Bar are targeted by attorneys who give low marks to Judges because they do not like the Judge’s rulings and want the Commission to make a negative recommendation at election time.
Any Judge who does not secure a “yes” vote from 57 percent of those voting on their retention are removed from office and the Governor then appoints a judge to fill the vacancy who then must run in the next general election in a partisan race.
All State of New Mexico Judges are strictly prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct from holding any elected or appointed positions in political parties.
All state Judges are strictly prohibited from endorsing any candidate for office and cannot solicit donations for elections and must have registered measured finance committees to raise money for them to prevent the Judges from knowing who donated to their campaigns.
A Judge is also prevented by the Code of Judicial Conduct from making “extrajudicial comments” to the media or groups that may reflect on their fairness and impartiality.
Once the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission issues its ratings, there is virtually no recourse for Judges to dispute a none-retention recommendation rating given to them other than to campaign vigorously for votes.
Judge Edward Benavidez is seeking retention on the Metropolitan Court and his name appears on the November election ballot.
On October 23, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal issued its editorial advocating voters keep all Metro Judges on the bench, including Judge Edward L. Benavidez.
This is what the Albuquerque Journal had to say about JUDGE EDWARD L. BENAVIDEZ:
“Benavidez has served as Metropolitan Court chief judge since May of 2017, overseeing the court’s $27 million budget and 300 employees. And he has presided over DWI Recovery Court for the last four years. Of the 335 offenders who graduated from the program, only 13 have re-offended, an astonishing success rate and proof this program is making a difference. And he’s juggled these duties while presiding over regular cases.
In surveys, 82 percent of court staff and 77 percent of resource staff (police officers) recommended Benavidez be retained. But only 51 percent of attorneys surveyed recommended retention. Benavidez, who has been a Metro Court judge for 10 years, says he ran afoul of defense attorneys and [the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission] JPEC in part because he still sets bonds for defendants he feels are a danger or flight risk. He has a 94 percent affirmation rate on appeal while also maintaining the highest case clearance rate in Metro Court.”
You can read the Journal recommendations for retention of all the Metro Judges here:
Judge Edward L. Benavidez has done and impressive job with the Metropolitan Court Recovery Program and voters should vote “YES” to retain him so he continue with his work.