March 23, 2016

Citing ‘resistance’ top Public Defender resigns

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New Mexico’s Chief Public Defender announced his resignation earlier this week.

Jorge Alvarado

Jorge Alvarado

Jorge Alvarado held the position since 2013 when he was hired to oversee the newly structured state entity under a governing commission instead of as an agency under the governor.

In a letter announcing his resignation, for Alvarado alluded to issues of oversight for the office and wrote that he no longer felt that he could effectively run the office.

“I have decided to resign as I believe things have gotten to the point that I can no longer be effective in helping to achieve the ultimate goal,” Alvarado wrote. “There is just too much resistance and unreasonable expectations with too many people wanting to run the office to be effective and orderly in the continued transition and growth of this organization.”

The newly-formed Public Defender Commission appointed Alvarado as Chief Public Defender in 2013. State voters approved replacing the governor’s oversight of public defenders with the commission in 2012.

In his letter, Alvarado praised the staff at the Law Offices of the Public Defender as well as accomplishments during his tenure.

“I have not been perfect over these past 28 months but I know that I have given it my best – I have left it on the field, to borrow from a sports analogy,” Alvarado wrote. “I also believe that while not everything is perfect, I have helped improve the conditions at the LOPD.”

Alvarado called the improvements “tangible” and cited increased budget and staffing levels. He also cited a push to increase wages for public defender staff as well as contract attorneys.

“We are in the process of raising staff’s salaries in order to encourage a career oriented staff and we have implemented plans to increase the compensation of contract counsel in complex cases,” Alvarado wrote.

Payment of public defenders, especially in rural areas, is a big issue for the office. The office requested a large increase in funding this year, nearly doubling the budget. Instead, the office received less than $1 million.

He went on to praise the office for representing defendants, often with criticism from the public. Alvarado referenced a quote from John Adams after defending British soldiers in the Boston Massacre.

“He represented the British soldiers – like you do – even in the face of significant public criticism and ridicule for doing so, as he believed in the true nature of what it means to be a civilized society,” Alvarado wrote.

Acting Deputy Chief Public Defender Bennet Baur served as acting Chief Public Defender before Alvarado was appointed to the position. Baur told NM Political Report he was unsure what action the commission would take next.

Below is a copy of Alvarado’s letter to staff announcing his resignation.

Greetings everyone,

I have had the distinct honor of serving as the Chief Public Defender for the State of New Mexico for approximately 28 months.  In this short time we have seen dramatic changes as we transitioned from the Executive oversight to an independent state agency in the Judiciary with oversight by a newly created Public Defender Commission.  We have seen substantial improvements in the services you provide to our clients.  The credit for all of this goes to the hard work of the dedicated and committed women and men who selflessly give of themselves to ensure and protect the constitutional rights of our clients and thereby our own rights.  The work is not easy because society forgets the lessons the history of this great country has shown us.  Following the successful revolution for independence, the Constitution was not adopted by the newly formed country until the Bill of Rights was included.  Since then those rights have been attacked regularly as their intention is to keep the government in check and thus it is perceived by many to interfere with its powers.  Your work gives meaning to these rights on a daily basis; it’s where the constitutional rubber meets the road of protecting human dignity – thank you!  I think public defense work is perhaps the best job ever – you get paid by the government to keep the government honest.

I have always tried to leave the work environment better than I found it.  Some may have noticed the quotes I have following my signature on my emails.  I have strived to live up to these gems.  In doing so, I feel good about myself and they generally create a more positive living and working environment.  I believe in being impeccable with my word as I believe my integrity is my greatest asset.  I have tried not to take things personally as I know others interpret or hold different beliefs and opinions than I do.  Some believe in attacking others for their own personal gain or in the name of improvement.  I also understand improvement is always something to strive for and thus I try to listen to criticism.  I have tried to make no assumptions as giving people the benefit of the doubt, is important for me.  I have always tried to do my best as I take pride in the quality of what I do.  I have not always lived up to each of these promises in every encounter or circumstance.  But as the author, Don Miguel Ruiz, points out, doing my best includes that I change my course of conduct to be consistent with whichever promise I may be forgetting at the moment and to move forward by doing my best thereafter.  Furthermore, as Abraham Maslow cautioned, I have deliberately tried to be more than I’m capable of being so that I can be happy with myself knowing that I have given it my best.

I have not been perfect over these past 28 months but I know that I have given it my best – I have left it on the field, to borrow from a sports analogy.  I also believe that while not everything is perfect, I have helped improve the conditions at the LOPD.  The accomplishments achieved during my tenure as Chief Public Defender are tangible.  We have changed our name to reflect the professional nature of this organization.  As an organization, we are pulling together as a team now known to everyone as the Law Offices of the Public Defender.  As a team you are providing excellent representation to our clients.  Due to our successful lobbying and building relations, the LOPD has received substantial budget increases of approximately 16.9% – from approximately $42.05 million in FY14 to $49.1 for FY17.  We have seen our authorized staff increased over 11% from 394 to 439.  We now have working at the LOPD 55 more people than we did in the beginning of 2013.  We saw an increase of over 18% for contract defender compensation.  We have successfully maneuvered through the transition as an independent agency.  We have implemented an independent technology network to ensure the confidentiality of our communications and our independence from Executive oversight where legally possible.  In furtherance of this transition we have also implemented an independent personnel system where we are now putting our staff at parity in pay structures with District Attorney Personnel.  We are in the process of raising staff’s salaries in order to encourage a career oriented staff and we have implemented plans to increase the compensation of contract counsel in complex cases.

We have built an environment whereby people are given the respect, resources and latitude to perform to the top of their abilities.  We have pushed for, and we are well on our way, in providing an increase in the level of training not just for lawyers but for all staff.  We have strived for a positive upbeat working environment whereby you and your co-workers know that you are safe in your work place to explore new things with a goal of increasing efficiency and obtaining better results.  We have built an environment where we demonstrate reliability at all levels of services provided by the LOPD team.  We have encouraged people to express their opinions and thoughts in a positive, confident, honest and respectful manner.  Good ideas are pursued where possible and advocating for systemic change in both the organization and the justice system to ensure the respect and fairness on behalf of our clients.  We continue to be instrumental in the creation and improvement of a criminal justice system that is effective in protecting the rights of all persons involved especially our clients.  The team environment in the LOPD is not only at the local level but state-wide.  Where other offices are experiencing difficulties additional resources are provided in order to help our fellow team members facing tough challenges.  The team now demonstrates flexibility to changing conditions and seeks to maximize those ever-changing situations for the best benefit for our clients’ rights.  You work together as a team committed to finding solutions to any problem you encounter.  Also just as importantly, where possible the LOPD staff work with our sisters and brothers working as contract defenders and investigators to assist in the effective representation of all our clients.

Although the work is not completed, it is with a heavy heart that I have decided to I submit my resignation.  I do so knowing that working together we have built a strong foundation for the continued growth of this organization and that you will continue to build upon this foundation and the successes realized over the past two years.  That is the true Public Defender spirit – that against all odds we build upon ongoing successes and know them to be an inspiration for the continued success and dedication to the purpose of our work.  I have decided to resign as I believe things have gotten to the point that I can no longer be effective in helping to achieve the ultimate goal.  There is just too much resistance and unreasonable expectations with too many people wanting to run the office to be effective and orderly in the continued transition and growth of this organization.  However, I leave confident that you can and will continue to strive for that perfection in all you do.  The winds are in your sails, keep them there as you continue to build upon the foundation we have built for a truly just criminal justice system in this state and don’t let any obstacles stop your momentum or detract the effort.

I thank you for your support and hard work and the opportunity to have served with you during this short time.  America’s first acknowledgement of the true nobility of the work of criminal defense comes from John Adams.  Long after he signed the Declaration of Independence and served as the second President, he stated about his work in defending the British soldiers of the Boston massacre, “It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested actions of my whole life, and one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”  He represented the British soldiers – like you do – even in the face of significant public criticism and ridicule for doing so, as he believed in the true nature of what it means to be a civilized society.

Your work is indeed noble acts of gallantry and generosity – thank you and best wishes as you continue with the struggle!  I know you will continue to do your best.

Respectfully,

Jorge A. Alvarado

Chief Public Defender

Law Offices of the Public Defender

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