On November 16 Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced it was accepting applications to fill the vacancy of Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez who was elected Attorney General on November 8 and who will be is sworn in January 1. Lujan Grisham plans to appoint a replacement to serve the remaining 2 years of Torrez’s 4 year term which expires on January 1, 2024. Applications for the post were due by December 2.
On December 2, the Governor’s office released the names of 10 attorneys who applied for the appointment. The 10 attorneys who applied for the appointment were:
- Private Attorney Sam Bregman, a former Democratic Party State Chairman, a respected trial attorney who manages his own private law firm.
- Deputy City Attorney Damon Martinez, a former United States Attorney for New Mexico.
- Private Attorney Ed Perea, a retired APD Police Commander who is now in private practice.
- Private Attorney Joseph Gandert, an attorney who retired from the Federal Public defenders office after 20 plus years.
- Private Attorney Joseph Gribble, a 1977 graduate of UNM and an Albuquerque trial attorney with extensive experience in criminal defense and civil litigation.
- Evan Cochnar who has served as an Assistant District Attorney in the 11th Judicial District from 2011 to 2020 and who currently works for the New Mexico Risk Management Division.
- Assistant Attorney General Ashley Schweizer.
- Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney Josh Boone who oversees the Metropolitan Division.
- Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney John Duran who is a former Metro Judge and who oversees the District Attorneys’ Major Crimes Division.
- Bernalillo County Deputy District Attorney Diana Garcia who oversees the the DA’s Juvenile Division and who has been with office for 16 years.
Sources have confirmed that interviews of the 10 applicants were scheduled to have commenced on December 19 and were to have been conducted by Governor Lujan Grisham personally along with her General Council. Sources confirmed that an appointment of an new District Attorney was to have been announced the week of December 26.
APPLICATION TIME EXTENDED
On December 12, it was reported that Governor Lujan Grisham has extended the deadline for attorneys to file applications to Friday, December 23. No explanation was given for the extension of time for applications. Confidential sources have confirmed that all interviews that were originally scheduled for the week of December 19 have been cancelled and rescheduled. The interviews have now been changed to the week of January 2, 2023.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The extension of the application process took a number of people within the New Mexico Bar as well as the politcal observers by total surprise. It has resulted in speculation that Governor Lujan Grisham was not at all satisfied with the applicant pool or that more than a few who had applied withdrew their applications reducing the pool.
Amongst political observers of the process, it was said that one applicant in particular had the “inside track” on the appointment because of his politcal connections and association with the Governor. It was also said that the appointment was his for the asking. If that was the case, why bother to ask for more applications? No one knows for certain what resulted once the names of applicants were released nor who actively lobbied for or who actively lobbied against any one of the applicants.
One thing that is for certain is that there will be no new Bernalillo County District Attorney come January 1 when Raul Torrez is sworn into office as the next Attorney General. Torrez will have to resign in order for the Governor to make the appointment, and without an appointed successor, and “Interim District Attorney” will have to be appointed by Torrez to take over for him until the Governor makes a decision on a replacement.
Given the Albuquerque’s spiking violent crime and murder rates, the appointment of a new Bernalillo County District Attorney is one of the most consequential appointments the Governor will ever make. There is very little room for error on the appointment which is likely one of the biggest reasons for extending the application deadline and seeking to increase the pool of applicants.
Great work experience and academic qualifications for the job does not necessarily make a person a good fit for an elected position such as District Attorney which is as high profile as they come. Each one of the 10 applicants possesses positive and negative skill sets and different types of qualifications for the job. In other words, there is no one perfect candidate suited for the job who has applied, but that is usually the case with any elected or appointed politcal position.
The next Bernalillo County District Attorney needs to have strong prosecutorial and case management experience, personnel management experience, be a proven trial attorney, have the ability to work well with all stakeholders within the criminal justice system, including the courts, the defense bar, law enforcement and the legislature and be an effective leader who can attract attorneys to work for the office.
This is one appointment where politics and higher ambitions for office should absolutely not play any role. What should play a role is a real commitment to the office and the criminal justice system itself. The Governor needs to appoint one who she feels is the most qualified candidate, not the most political. If the Governor did in fact have reservations about any of those who have applied and she was not fully satisfied with the applicant pool, it was right for her to increase the time for which to apply and ask for more applicants.