The elected Bernalillo County Commission and the Bernalillo County Government are required by state law to provide for the housing of the 2nd Judicial District Court, the Metro Court, the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, the Bernalillo County Attorney’s Office and the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
The elected 5 members of the Bernalillo County Commission appoints the County Manager who in turn is responsible for managing, repairing and maintaining all county buildings and facilities using taxpayer funding.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BERNALILLO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
During the last 40 plus years, there have been 3 physical locations for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office: the 2nd Judicial District Courthouse, “Union Station” and the Steve Schiff District Attorney Building.
Over the last forty years, the Bernalillo County District Attorney office has grown from a small office of one elected District Attorney and 10 appointed Assistant District Attorneys to an office that employs 319 full time personnel consisting of 118 full time attorneys, and numerous paralegals, secretaries, investigators, and victim advocates.
For many years, and for many District Attorneys, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office was located on the second floor of the old 2nd Judicial District Courthouse downtown at 5th Street and Marquette, NW
The old courthouse still stands today and it is often used for TV and film productions, including “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” for courtroom scenes.
Notable elected District Attorneys who officed on the second floor of the old courthouse include Democrats Alexander Soresse, James Brandenburg, Ira Robinson and Republicans Steve Schiff and Bob Schwartz.
As both the 2nd Judicial District Court and the District Attorney’s Office grew over the years, it was necessary for the county to move the District Attorney’s Office to its own separate building because of its sure size.
The historic Union Station building located off of Central and the rail road tracks in downtown Albuquerque housed the District Attorney’s office for about 10 years, with the county remodeling and repairing it over those years.
Only two elected District Attorneys worked at the Union Station building: Republican Bob Schwartz and Democrat Jeff Romero.
Jeff Romero was the first hispanic elected Bernalillo County District Attorney who was born and raised in Albuquerque.
NEW COURTHOUSE, NEW DISTRICT ATTORNEY BUILDINGS
It was Democrat District Attorney Jeff Romero who successfully lobbied the Bernalillo County Commission to fund and build the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office on Lomas adjacent to the seven story Bernalillo County Courthouse.
Democrat District Attorney Jeff Romero lobbied “one on one” all Bernalillo County Commissioners and the Bernalillo County Manager to get the office not only built, but to make it a modern functioning office that would last for decades as the office grew within a growing city.
The building of the courthouse and the District Attorney’s Office were both part of the same project costing $55.9 million dollars to construct both buildings.
The 80,000-square-foot Steve Schiff District Attorney Building houses both the Bernalillo County District Attorney as well as the Bernalillo County Attorney’s office.
The elected DA’s office is on the 3rd floor while the appointed Bernalillo County Attorney Offices are located on the 4th floor.
There is one Bernalillo County Attorney with 7 Assistant County Attorneys who office on the 4th floor of the District Attorney’s office.
The current Bernalillo County Attorney is former Democrat Speaker of the New Mexico House of Representatives Ken Martinez.
An emphasis was placed on aesthetics for both the new courthouse and the district attorney office to include public art, including sculptures and paintings.
Outside and in front of the entrance of the District Attorneys office is a commissioned sculpture of an adult “American eagle” in a nest with chicks to symbolize the nurturing of justice.
The outside bronze piece is a commissioned work of art by well-known New Mexico sculptor Sonny Rivera.
Former Republican US Representative Steven H. Schiff was a five-term Republican Congressman from New Mexico who helped research the ethics case against former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who was admonished for his actions by the House.
Steve Schiff passed on March 26, 1998 at the age of 51 from a lengthy battle with cancer leaving a wife and a young son Daniel.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office was named by the Bernalillo County Commission after former congressman Steve Schiff soon after he passed away.
The outside of the building bears the name “The Steve Schiff Building”.
Three elected District Attorneys have had their offices at the Steve Schiff District Attorney Building: Democrats Jeff Romero, Kari Brandenburg and Raul Torrez
In the dedication area for the District Attorney’s office building is a commissioned bronze bust of former Congressman Steve Schiff who also served as Bernalillo County District Attorney for a number of years before becoming a United States Congressman replacing Republican Congressman Manuel Lujan.
After the dedication of the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office and the revealing of the Steve Schiff bronze bust, the photos of all the past elected Bernalillo District Attorney’s where found and framed using taxpayer money with the photos exhibited for historical reasons.
The photos were exhibited in a small room area immediately south of the front desk entry, behind the metal detector screening area.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Some of the best trial attorneys in New Mexico have either been elected District Attorney or started their careers at the District Attorney’s office to get trial experience.
Many prominent attorneys who are still practicing law today were given their first job right out of law school by a past Bernalillo County District Attorney.
More than a few attorneys started their careers in the District Attorney’s Office went on to become Metro Court Judges, District Court Judges, or Appellate Court Judges or becoming prominent private practice trial attorneys.
It is important to the legal community that the memories of past District Attorney’s not be forgotten but respected for the years of service they gave to our criminal justice system.
An act that was considered an act of pettiness was when current District Attorney Raul Torrez removed without any explanation all of the framed photographs of past elected District Attorneys that also had their dates of service.
Ostensibly, Mr. Torrez took the photographs down without the permission of the County Manager who manages the property.
According to sources within the DA’s office, dedication plaques to long time serving Deputy District Attorneys for the office who have passed, Deputies Joe Paone and Chris Lackman, have also been removed from conference rooms dedicated to their memory.
Elected officials often believe the offices they hold means they can do whatever they want to government facilities and its contents.
All too often elected officials do not realize how short their tenure can be if they are not careful with how they treat people or how they perform in office after elected.
Time and time again, elected officials quickly find it is easier to run for office than to hold office and fall into the trap of governing by constantly campaigning and attending events to keep a positive image with the press.
Another common tactic by insecure elected officials is to make sure that the legacy of their predecessor is dismantled, forgotten or scrubbed from public memory, such as what President Donald Trump has been trying to do for the past 2 years with the Barack Obama Legacy.
If things continue as they are for District Attorney Raul Torrez with bad stories regarding his management of the office, he needs to make sure he gives to his successor a nice photo shot of himself.
His photo can then be exhibited with all the photos of his predecessors he has taken down, if those photos can be found, not destroyed or thrown away by Torrez.
In the meantime, the Bernalillo County Manager and the Bernalillo County Commission need make sure the history of the District Attorney’s Office be preserved and remind Mr. Torrez that he is a tenant, not an owner, of the building.