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 […]

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. These courts are the busiest in the state, resolving more than 170,000 criminal, civil and traffic cases last year.
  • There will be no more criminal or civil jury trials starting in March unless the courts receive additional funding. Criminal defendants, whether innocent or guilty, are entitled to a speedy trial under the constitution.
  • The prosecution of criminal cases is being impaired. Some courts confront the possibility of dismissing cases because the state’s public defender office lacks the staff and budget it needs to handle more cases.
  • Drug and mental health courts have substantially reduced the number of people they can serve with treatment programs because of budget cuts. Studies have shown these programs are more effective than prison in preventing an offender’s re-arrest and cost far less than imprisonment.

All New Mexicans feel the consequences of delays in justice. Businesses and individuals must wait longer to resolve civil lawsuits, including landlord-tenant disputes, divorces and damage claims for injuries in accidents. Criminal defendants may seek to dismiss charges against them if they are denied the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

The New Mexico judiciary accounts for less than 3 cents of every $1 that taxpayers spend from the state’s general fund on programs and services ranging from public education to prisons. Rather than talk about “right-sizing” or further cutting government, legislators must adequately fund essential services such as our courts. A modest step in the right direction toward adequate funding the judiciary is to require that at least 3 percent of the state’s annual budget be allocated for court operations.

Maintaining the rule of law is vital to the day-to-day functioning of our democratic way of life.

The judiciary has done its part by trimming costs in a time of austere budgets and shrinking state revenues. That belt-tightening includes keeping court staff positions vacant, lowering juror pay and reducing the mileage reimbursements for travel by jurors, judges and all court employees.

Doing more with less is no longer possible. New Mexicans can expect fewer services and further reductions in court business hours if the judiciary must absorb additional budget cuts.

Our constitution created the judiciary as a separate, independent branch of government. But the ability of an independent judiciary to serve New Mexicans depends on the budget decisions of the legislative and executive branches of government.

It’s time that we in the legislature work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the judiciary can carry out its responsibilities to safeguard the constitutional rights of every man, woman and child in New Mexico. Timely access to justice and a properly functioning court system benefits everyone.

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Dept Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure…
AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced on Thursday his legislative priorities for July’s special legislative session, including the creation of a crime victim’s unit to…
Correa Hemphill to step down from legislature

Correa Hemphill to step down from legislature

State Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill, a Democrat from Silver City, won’t seek reelection in the general election in November, leaving SD 28, a swing…
BLM announces criteria for lands that the government might purchase

BLM announces criteria for lands that the government might purchase

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced the criteria for landowners to nominate private lands adjacent to public lands that can be sold or…
EPA announces $18.9M in funding to address PFAS contamination in New Mexico

EPA announces $18.9M in funding to address PFAS contamination in New Mexico

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the New Mexico Environment Department nearly $19 million to address PFAS and other emerging contaminants in drinking water.…
Environmental historian reflects on the legacies of Aldo Leopold and the Gila Wilderness

Environmental historian reflects on the legacies of Aldo Leopold and the Gila Wilderness

One hundred years ago, conservationist Aldo Leopold proposed designating 500,000 acres of land in the Gila National Forest as an area where no roads…
Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury secured $8.3 million for childhood development and youth services in the 1st congressional district through federal community project funding. Stansbury,…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf answered questions about the safety of human milk formula and mifepristone on Wednesday. Sen. Martin…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Lujan Grisham talks reproductive healthcare with CNN host

Lujan Grisham talks reproductive healthcare with CNN host

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned that banning contraceptives “could be next” when talking to a CNN host about New Mexico’s border and abortion issues.…
UNM approves land acquisition for Las Cruces reproductive health center

UNM approves land acquisition for Las Cruces reproductive health center

Thursday, the University of New Mexico Board of Regents approved a land acquisition for a full-spectrum reproductive healthcare center, that will include abortion care,…
Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf answered questions about the safety of human milk formula and mifepristone on Wednesday. Sen. Martin…
FDA urged to relax decades-old tissue donation restrictions for gay and bisexual men

FDA urged to relax decades-old tissue donation restrictions for gay and bisexual men

By Rae Ellen Bichell The federal government in 2020 and 2023 changed who it said could safely donate organs and blood, reducing the restrictions…
Lujan Grisham talks reproductive healthcare with CNN host

Lujan Grisham talks reproductive healthcare with CNN host

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned that banning contraceptives “could be next” when talking to a CNN host about New Mexico’s border and abortion issues.…
Study: Marriage equality has had a positive impact

Study: Marriage equality has had a positive impact

A recent study found that in the 20 years since Massachusetts became the first state in the U.S. to grant same-sex marriage licenses, same-sex…
State Ethics Commission sues Apodacas dark money operation

State Ethics Commission sues Apodacas dark money operation

By Marjorie Childress, New Mexico In Depth The State Ethics Commission on Friday sued a dark money group and its president, Jeff Apodaca, to force disclosure…
Lujan Grisham talks reproductive healthcare with CNN host

Lujan Grisham talks reproductive healthcare with CNN host

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned that banning contraceptives “could be next” when talking to a CNN host about New Mexico’s border and abortion issues.…
Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Dept Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure…
Death threats. Harassment. Intimidation. For New Mexico women, a life in politics can bring all three.

Death threats. Harassment. Intimidation. For New Mexico women, a life in politics can bring all three.

by Susanna Space, Searchlight New Mexico One Wednesday morning in April, Las Cruces City Councilor Johana Bencomo sat in a federal courtroom, watching with…
Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury secured $8.3 million for childhood development and youth services in the 1st congressional district through federal community project funding. Stansbury,…
BLM announces criteria for lands that the government might purchase

BLM announces criteria for lands that the government might purchase

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced the criteria for landowners to nominate private lands adjacent to public lands that can be sold or…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report