New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the appointment of former Democratic State Party Chair and defense attorney Sam Bregman as the new 2nd Judicial District Attorney replacing Raúl Torrez. Torrez was elected Attorney General on November 8 and was is sworn in on January 1 replacing Attorney General Hector Balderas. According to a press release, Bregman will begin serving in the position immediately. Bregman will serve the remaining 2 years of Raúl Torrez’s 4 year term he was elected to in 2020. It was reported that Bregman will not run for reelection in 2024.
Governor Lujan Grisham had this to say in a press release:
“A former prosecutor with extensive experience in litigation and case oversight, Sam Bregman will bring a fresh perspective to the Second Judicial District Attorney’s office. … I am confident that he will serve as a dedicated and effective district attorney focused on improving public safety and supporting the people of Bernalillo County. … Bregman will leave the office after serving the remaining two years of Torrez’s term. … He will not run for reelection to the office, focusing on the office’s work to combat crime and build stronger, safer communities.”
Sam Bregman had this to say about his appointment:
“I am honored to be appointed as Second Judicial District attorney. I realize the great responsibility of the role and am committed to relentlessly pursuing justice for the residents of Bernalillo County. … I look forward to joining the hardworking staff of the DA’s office and will prioritize fully staffing the office to support their ongoing critical work. Together we will serve the people of central New Mexico and deliver real results and improve public safety.”
ABOUT SAM BREGMAN
Sam Bregman is a 1989 graduate of the University of New Mexico Law School. He is a former Democratic Party State Chairman. Bregman served as an Assistant Bernalillo County District Attorney from 1994 through 1997. Bregman was an elected Albuquerque City Council from 1995 until 1999 and has a served as Deputy State Auditor for the State of New Mexico. Bregman unsuccessfully ran for Commissioner of Public Lands and Mayor of Albuquerque. Bregman currently serves on the New Mexico Racing Commission and is Chairman of the Commission.
Bregman has trial experience in both civil and criminal defense’ with 3 decades of trial experience. He has represented defendants in several high-profile cases over the years including representing Keith Sandy, one of the two APD Officers who faced charges for the shooting killing of homeless camper James Boyd in 2014. He represented Keith Brandon and Jonathan Sandoval, the two Metropolitan Detention Center officers charged in the 2019 death of inmate Vincente Villela. He also represented the family of Amelia Baca, who was shot and killed by a Las Cruces Police Officer in April of 2022.
Links to quoted news sources are here:
Bregman was one of 14 applicants who applied for the appointment. The 13 other applicants were:
- Damon Martinez, a former United States Attorney for New Mexico.
- Private Attorney Ed Perea, a retired APD Police Commander.
- Joseph Gandert, a private Albuquerque attorney, and a fomer Federal Public defender. office for 20 plus years.
- Joseph Gribble,an Albuquerque attorney, a 1977 graduate of University of New Mexico law with extensive experience in criminal and civil litigation
- Evan Cochnar a fomer prosecutor 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 CountyDeputy District Attorney John Duran, who oversees the District Attorneys’ Major Crimes Division.
- Bernalillo CountyDeputy District Attorney Diana Garcia who oversees the DA’s Juvenile Division.
- Assistant U.S. Attorney Alexander Flores.
- Brianne Bigej, general counsel for the New Mexico Department of Corrections
- Matthias Swonger, supervising attorney for the New Mexico Public Defenders Offices.
- Private Attorney and former prosecutor Steven S. Suttle.
BERNALILLO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
As of November 21,2022, according to the New Mexico State Government Sunshine Portal, the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office has a $30,350,800 million operating budget with an adjusted operating budget of $36,680,800 which includes all sources of financing including federal grants. The office is budgeted for 337 full time positions. The office employs 102 attorneys (81 filled, 21 vacant) who are “at will” and 255 other “classified” employees consisting of paralegals, administrative assistants, victim advocates, investigators, IT managers and personnel and finance division personnel who can only be terminated for cause under the state personnel rules and regulations. 276 of the positions are “active” meaning filled. The office has an alarming 61 vacancies. The number of vacancies in the office is larger than most other District Attorney’s offices in the state.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The appointment of Sam Bregman did come with some politcal drama when on December 2, the Governor’s office released the names of 10 attorneys who applied for the appointment and Bregman’s name was one of the 10. On December 12, the deadline for attorneys to file applications was extended December 23. No explanation was given for the extension of time for applications. On December 28, the names of 4 additional attorneys who applied were released bringing the total number of applicants to 14. Speculation was rampant that the Governor was not at all satisfied with the 10 original applicants which was the reason for extending the deadline to allow others to apply.
Notwithstanding the politcal drama, the appointment of Sam Bregman did not come as a surprise to politcal insiders. Since announcing the names of all 14 applicants, insiders said the appoint was Bregman’s for the asking and that he had the “inside track” on the appointment because of his politcal connections, association and fundraising for the Governor. There are no term limitations of the office of Bernalillo County District Attorney. What did come as a surprise to many is that Bregman will serve the remaining 2 years of Raúl Torrez’s 4 year term and he will not run for a full 4 year term in 2024. Essentially Bregman is a lame duck or caretaker and will not be able to do much with the office over the next 24 months.
Bregman has a reputation for being very bombastic with an extreme affinity to TV news cameras. When he served as an Albuquerque City Councilor, he was labeled “Showboat Sam” and it was said the most dangerous place to be was between Bregman and TV news cameras. His reputation for showboating carried over the years but he became more bombastic as Democrat Party Chair and even as a criminal defense attorney as he played to the news cameras. Each time Bregman handled a high profile case, whether it be criminal or civil, you could always expect a news conference as he gave his spin on the case.
There is little to no doubt that Bregman still harbors future political ambitions. More than a few sources, including a few prominent defense attorneys, are saying he has told them he intends to run for Mayor again in 2025 knowing full well that Mayor Tim Keller is failing with a 33% approval rating and that the city’s spiking violent crime rates will again be a major issue. His timing of serving 2 years as DA would be perfect as his appointed term time will end on December 31, 2024 and the 2025 Mayor’s race will begin in earnest in March, 2025 with nominating petitions being available.
Bregman would be wise to curb his “publicity seeking” ways as District Attorney, something that his predecessor Raúl Torrez was known for and that got him in trouble with the courts and the legislature. He would also be wise to try and learn the office first and keep his big mouth shut before he tries to set any priorities and deal with the legislature in that he has never managed anything bigger than his own solo practice law firm.
The Bernalillo County District Attorneys office currently has a 65% combined voluntary dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate. The city continues to break all time homicide records. In 2021 there were 117 homicides and in 2022 there were 120 homicides. There is a “revolving door” for experienced prosecutors with no less than 21 attorney vacancies and a total 61 vacancies out of 276 full time positions. The DA’s office is now Bregman’s and he must perform. If he fails, he can probably kiss his future political ambitions good bye.
The big question is if Governor Lujan Grisham appointed Bregman in exchange for his commitment not to run for a full 4 year term in 2 years. Such a concession and agreement has happened before when Governor MLG appointed Jim Collie Bernalillo County Commission for 2 years in exchange for his commitment not to seek a full 4 year term.