March 24, 2016

Not just the Roundhouse: Big DA races looming in November

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Andy Lyman

Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque

The deadline for New Mexico candidates to file has passed which means campaign season is in full swing. It’s not just legislators competing though.

Across the state candidates are also running for the position for district attorney in their respective areas.

These races may have extra attention this year after a relentless drumbeat of tough-on-crime bills during the legislative session.

First Judicial District

The First Judicial District—which covers Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos Counties—will see at least a couple of former coworkers going up against each other.

The current DA, Jennifer Padgett is running as a Democrat. Padgett told NM Political Report that she is hoping to continue working towards being a more “proactive and progressive” DA, something she said residents in her district want.

“The community is so open and responsive to looking at what the prevention and intervention and diversion options are,” Padgett said.

Jennifer Padgett, Democratic candidate for First Judicial District Court

Jennifer Padgett

Jennifer Padgett, Democratic candidate for First Judicial District Court

Padgett previously worked for Gov. Susana Martinez when Martinez was the Third Judicial District Attorney. Martinez would later appoint Padgett to her current position to replace Angela “Spence” Pacheco after Pacheco retired.

Maria Sanchez-Gagne, a Democrat, worked for the Attorney General’s Office for 15 years after spending four years working for the First Judicial District Attorney. Sanchez-Gagne said she foresees campaigning as one of the biggest challenges in running for office.

“The challenges are going to be, in any campaign, is working to raise money to be an effective candidate,” Sanchez-Gagne said.

Democrat Marco Serna told New Mexico Political Report that he would also like to see a more progressive approach to prosecuting non-violent offenders. He added that he would also like to see sooner intervention in prosecuting domestic violent offenders.

He said if he were elected he would try and reach out to both offenders and victims before the violence turns deadly.

“We would be able to reach some of these offenders before the progression continues,” Serna said.

One of the challenges the eventual Democratic candidate will have to face is a competitive general election for the first time since at least 1996, the last year with election results available on the Secretary of State’s website.

Yvonne Chicoine is the lone Republican candidate. Chicoine worked for the First Judicial District Attorney’s office from 2007 to 2011 before moving on to work for the Attorney General’s office. Chicoine told NM Political Report that she would like to see defendants held more accountable for their actions.

“If someone commits a crime and they have an addiction, the fact is they are an illegal drug user,” Chicoine said.

Second Judicial District

Perhaps the most high profile race for DA is in the district that represents Bernalillo County, including Albuquerque.

Current District Attorney Kari Brandenburg recently announced she would not run for reelection after holding the position almost 16 years. Brandenburg will end her career with a strained relationship with Albuquerque’s top brass, including Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden.

The consent decree from the Department of Justice over unconstitutional police activity by Albuquerque police as well as the state legislature putting pressure on prosecutors to crack down on repeat violent offenders, may prove to put the spotlight on the three candidates.

Former federal prosecutor Raul Torrez added his name as a potential Democratic candidate almost a year ago and has been pushing his platform to revamp the operations of the DA’s office. Referring to it as “moneyball prosecution”, Torrez wants to see a more efficient process in getting offenders off the streets while also working in the community to identify problem neighborhoods using empirical data.

Raul Torrez

Raul Torrez

Raul Torrez, Democratic candidate for Second Judicial District Attorney

“We can have a great impact on the sort of general level of public safety,” Torrez said.

He said while it the the DA’s job to work with law enforcement, he also says officers should be held accountable for their actions.

“There also has to be an understanding the DA has a separate response to ensure everyone is held accountable,” Torrez said.

Torrez’s opponent in the Democratic primary Ed Perea is a former police commander and special prosecutor. Perea said he too will hold police accountable.

Ed Perea

Andy Lyman

Ed Perea, Democratic candidate for Bernalillo County District Attorney

“I’ve held them accountable my entire career,” Perea said of his past career.

Perea cites his history with APD as proof of what he expects out of officers.

“Not one of my officers have been accused of excessive force,” Perea told NM Political Report.

Perea’s campaign website boasts his drive to provide prosecutors with the ability to work through cases in a timely manner as well as making sure fairness plays a role.

“I’ve always stood for what is right,” Perea said.

Republican candidate Simon Kubiak could not be reached for a comment, but his campaign website says he believes in a smaller government and that making the streets of Albuquerque safer will result in more personal freedoms. Kubiak run unsuccessfully against now U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham for a spot on the Bernalillo County Commission.  After being appointed to fill her vacancy after she won the congressional election, he lost against current commissioner Debbie O’Malley. His campaign site also lists him as a cofounder and president of the National Video Game Association.

Third Judicial District

While not always in the spotlight, the Third Judicial District has had its fair share of attention. Martinez last worked as DA in the district before winning the election for governor.

Her replacement Amy Orlando, appointed by Martinez, was also accused by the current DA for improperly disposing records.

The district prosecuted Devon Lymon, which ultimately ended in a plea agreement under Martinez. Lymon is facing trial for the killing of an Albuquerque police officer.

Current DA Mark D’Antonio is running for reelection as a Democrat and will face an opponent in the primary election. D’Antonio told NM Political Report that his experience managing prosecutors as well as his experience working with the FBI and DOJ sets him apart from other candidates.

“What’s really important is you have to have a diversity of backgrounds,” D’Antonio said.

Like Perea, D’Antonio lists his experience with law enforcement as proof that we can work well with officers while holding them accountable.

“We need both sides of the equation,” D’Antonio said of working with police.

James Dickens, a current prosecutor in Alamogordo and D’Antonio’s opponent in the Democratic primary has almost two decades of prosecutorial experience and said he would like to see more accountability in the office.

“There is a lack of focus on the most of violent of crimes,” Dickens said.

He said he has seen many violent offenders who get reduced sentences while the public is “not properly protected.”

Dickens also said he will push for more communication between victims, witnesses and police officers. Whoever wins the Democratic primary in the district will go up against conservative Brad Cates.

Brad Cates

Andy Lyman

Brad Cates, Republican candidate for Third Judicial District Attorney

Cates, who has recently advocated against asset forfeitures before an arrest is made, is standing on his platform of getting tough on crime. A self-professed advocate of increased penalties and enforced three strikes laws, Cates told NM Political Report.

Cates said one of his priorities is to curb DWI offenses.

“The repeat people are killing literally dozens and hundreds of people every year and it needs to be stopped,” Cates said.

While Cates acknowledged that treatment or rehabilitation is sometimes needed, he said it’s not his job.

“I’m not a social worker,” Cates said. “I’m a prosecutor.”