Gov. Susana Martinez delivering the 2017 State of the State Address.

Pomp, circumstance and State of the State in photos

As is often the case, the first day of the 2017 legislative session began with lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters catching up and getting their bearings straight. The first day began with lawmakers settling into their new seating assignments and making new leadership official. Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, was elected Speaker of the House, while Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton, D-Albuquerque, was elected by the Democratic caucus to serve as the Majority Floor Leader.  

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We must properly fund New Mexico’s court system

New Mexico’s courts face a funding crisis that threatens to undermine the judiciary’s ability to protect our rights by delivering timely justice. We must act now to prevent further damage. As Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Daniels recently told a legislative committee, “We are now basically on life support through the end of this fiscal year.”
Pete Campos is a Democratic state senator who represents the Las Vegas area. In courthouses across the state, New Mexicans can see the corrosive effects of budget cuts and underfunding of the judiciary. Most magistrate courts are closed to the public for at least half a day each week because the courts are unable to fill vacant staff positions.

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Courts announce budget reductions, say further would have big consequences

The Administrative Office of the Courts announced cost-cutting measures designed to help balance the state budget amid the current crisis. Further cuts, however, would be painful and impact the courts, according to the state Supreme Court Chief Justice. The announcement Tuesday said the judiciary will reduce spending by about $500,000 by dropping the mileage reimbursement for travel. The reduced reimbursements will affect “judges, staff, jurors, interpreters and court-ordered witnesses,” according to the press release. Beginning Oct.

Photo Credit: Joe Gratz cc

Supreme Court weighs in on Skype testimony, judges using Facebook

Lawyers cannot use Skype or similar services for expert witnesses testifying against a defendant, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday. The ruling came after an expert witness in a murder and kidnapping trial used Skype to testify on the evidence against the defendant. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that since the defendant did not waive his constitutional right to confront witnesses, the testimony is invalid. The witness was no longer in the state, however the state’s high court ruled, “Inconvenience to the witness is not sufficient reason to dispense with this constitutional right.“

The Supreme Court ruled the kidnapping case did not have enough evidence for a conviction and remanded the murder charge back to district court for a new trial. “The United States Supreme Court has never adopted a specific standard for two-way video testimony, but we doubt it would find any virtual testimony an adequate substitute for face-to-face confrontation without at least the showing of necessity that Craig requires,” Chief Justice Charles Daniels wrote in the opinion, referring to Maryland v. Craig that affirmed the use of one-way video for testimony by the accuser in a child sex abuse case.

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Finally, Phil Griego case has a judge

In what looks like a final decision, attorneys for a former state senator and prosecutors agreed on a judge to preside over the case. Brett Loveless will preside over the high profile case of Phil Griego, who is facing corruption charges related to a real estate deal that ended with his resignation from the state SEnate. The last time we checked in with the case, the Democrat from San Jose pleaded not guilty. This came in front of the eighth judge assigned to the case. Before District Court Judge Sarah Singleton took the case, the previous seven recused themselves.

Senate version of bail reform advances

After Senate passage last week, a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the bail process in New Mexico cleared its first House committee Monday afternoon. The bill would allow general election voters this fall to weigh in on allowing a judge to deny bail to defendants deemed dangerous to society. Under the amendment, defendants who don’t present a danger to society could not be held if the only thing keeping them in jail was a lack of money

The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill 7-2, with Reps. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, and David Adkins, R-Albuquerque, casting to only dissenting votes. The bill has support from criminal defense attorney organizations, public defender offices, civil liberty groups and city and county organizations.

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Senate passes bail reform amendment

The Senate passed what may become one of the landmark pieces of this legislative session, passing a proposed constitutional amendment that would remake the bail process in New Mexico in two major ways. The Senate passed the bill 29-9, with all Democrats voting for the proposal except for two who did not vote. Several Republicans joined with the Democrats to vote for the proposal. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the legislation and said that there are two components that the proposal attempts to fix. “The first is under the current law, judges only in very limited circumstances have the ability to hold a dangerous defendant pre-trial without granting bail,” Wirth says.

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Dueling bail reform amendments advance

Two competing proposals for reforming New Mexico’s bail process moved forward on Monday, setting up an inevitable clash as they move towards the floors of the House and Senate. The Senate version has two components: It would allow judges to deny release of those awaiting trial if they are deemed a danger to the public and it would allow judges to not impose bond if the only thing keeping someone accused of a non-violent crime in jail is a lack of ability to pay bond. The House version only has the first part, on allowing judges to keep those deemed dangerous in jail until trial. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, presented his version along with New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels. Wirth said the legislation was “narrowed dramatically” since he started the vetting process through interim committees last year.

NM bail reform debate heavy on ideas, light on data

State lawmakers are debating whether to ask voters to change the Constitution and give judges more flexibility in the state’s longstanding cash bail system. Two proposals vie for their attention and if either wins the Legislature’s approval, it would go before voters in November. One would allow judges to deny bail to defendants deemed dangerous but let those who are not go free before trial if financial hardship is all that’s keeping them behind bars. The other addresses dangerous defendants but not individuals too poor to afford bail. Currently, the New Mexico Constitution allows nearly all criminal defendants the chance for freedom before trial, so long as they can afford it.

Second Judicial District Court in AlbuquerquePhoto Credit: Andy Lyman

Bail reform constitutional amendment moves forward

One of the few pieces of legislation dealing with what supporters call social justice moved forward today in the Senate Rules Committee, the first step in a long process that supporters hope ends with voters approving the proposal. The proposal would reform New Mexico’s bond system in two ways; it would allow judges to deny bond to those who are deemed the person is a danger to the community and it would allow judges to waive bond if the imposition of bond is the only thing keeping that person in jail until trial. The legislation passed on an 9-1 vote. New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels has been a high profile supporter of the amendment. He said that both pieces of the legislation are important and need to be included.