Public defenders office still needs money to fill positions

In a report to an interim legislative committee, the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender told lawmakers the situation for public defenders in the state is getting better, but that they still need more funding. Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado told the Legislative Finance Committee on Friday that his office is on its […]

Public defenders office still needs money to fill positions

gavel on stack of documentsIn a report to an interim legislative committee, the New Mexico Law Offices of the Public Defender told lawmakers the situation for public defenders in the state is getting better, but that they still need more funding.

Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado told the Legislative Finance Committee on Friday that his office is on its way to filling 33 staff attorney positions this year, but that contract counsel is still a problem.

In his presentation, Alvarado said his office is struggling to maintain an adequate amount of contract attorneys to defend cases in rural parts of the state. He added that even with a standard of having “a heartbeat and a bar card” for contract attorneys, low flat rates for contracts makes it hard to attract lawyers.

The Law Offices of the Public Defender has long advocated for hourly rates over flat fees in order to properly defend clients in court. Alvarado maintained this position during the committee meeting and said hourly rates have helped five counties he deemed “in crisis.” He told committee members that five counties in the southern portion of New Mexico are now “holding ground” because of hourly rates to contracted lawyers.

“What I mean by holding ground, is that it has still not been solved yet,” he said.

Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, offered a possible solution of using staff members in rural parts of the state instead of contract employees, but Alvarado countered that lawmakers would still have to approve money for additional offices.

Rep. Tim Lewis, R-Rio Rancho, referenced the recent killing of a Rio Rancho police officer and asked how the public defender’s office is staying accountable, to which Alvarado said “the system is working the best that it can.”

Lewis said he would still like to see more accountability.

“Moving forward there’s got to be more answers than that, I can’t go back to my constituents and say, ‘the system is working the best it can,’” Lewis said.

Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, the chair of the committee, said the public defender’s office has always had trouble getting money from the executive and legislative branches of the state. He criticized both Republican and Democratic governors of New Mexico for not appropriating money to the public defenders, then boasting a balanced budget.

He added that even if the legislature approves funds to the public defenders, “you still need a governor to sign off on it.” In the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers approved $1.3 million for the Law Offices of the Public Defender, but Gov. Susana Martinez later vetoed the funding from the budget. The lack of funds for the office created a hiring freeze until $400,000 was later approved by the state Board of Finance.

Smith ended the presentation by saying that the issue of public defender funding can be divisive, by quoting former New Mexico Governor Bruce King.

“He said, ‘Some of my friends say yes, and some of my friends say no, and I agree with my friends,’” Smith said.

 

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

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…
Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

Bill to end detention of immigrants in New Mexico fails soon after new report on poor conditions

A bill to prohibit immigration detention in New Mexico failed a few weeks after an organization issued a report regarding the conditions for a…
Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…
Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…
Hearing examiner recommends that PRC reject controversial LNG storage facility

Hearing examiner recommends that PRC reject controversial LNG storage facility

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros recommended that the commissioners deny New Mexico Gas Company’s request to build, own and operate…
SCOTUS hears interstate air pollution case

SCOTUS hears interstate air pollution case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday regarding a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule known as the good neighbor plan. The good neighbor plan…
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:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

Supreme Court censures attorney over conduct in anti-COVID policy suits

The New Mexico State Supreme Court censured a New Mexico attorney because of her “misconduct” in two unsuccessful cases pushing back on COVID-19 regulations…
Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

Guv outlines some health priorities on state spending

During her state of the state address on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told legislators that one of her legislative priorities is a request…
Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

Referendum on Edgewood’s anti-abortion ordinance moves forward

The town of Edgewood is moving forward with its ballot referendum on its anti-abortion ordinance at a cost of more than $35,000. The town…
2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

2023 Top Stories #1: Anti-abortion efforts go local

Note: Every year, we count down the top ten stories of the year, as voted on by NM Political Report staffers. Earlier this month, the New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral…
NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

NM Supreme Court to decide if local anti-abortion ordinances are legal

The New Mexico Supreme Court will decide whether anti-abortion ordinances passed by local governments in eastern New Mexico over the last 13 months can…
AGs want FDA guidance on heavy metals for the baby food industry

AGs want FDA guidance on heavy metals for the baby food industry

New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez and a coalition of 19 other attorneys general called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to issue…
Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

Supporters of Paid Family and Medical Leave say it will return

House Speaker Javier Martinez said that the Paid Family and Medical Leave will return to next year’s legislative session. SB 3, sponsored by state…
Paid Family Medical Leave bill dies in the final days of the session for a second year in a row

Paid Family Medical Leave bill dies in the final days of the session for a second year in a row

A bill that would have provided paid leave for several weeks died on the House floor when 11 Democrats sided with Republicans to vote…

Bill to require disclosure of use of AI in campaign materials goes to governor

The Senate approved a bill aiming to require the disclosure of the use of artificial intelligence or other changes made by computers to campaign…
House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

House amends, passes bill banning firearms near polling places

The House narrowly approved a bill that would ban firearms near polling places. The House voted 35-34 to pass the bill following an extensive…
Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Manny Gonzales doesn’t qualify for Senate GOP primary ballot

Nella Domenici is the lone Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, after Manny Gonzales III failed to qualify for the ballot. Gonzales did not file…
Stansbury talks infrastructure issues at roundtable

Stansbury talks infrastructure issues at roundtable

Democratic U.S. Representative Melanie Stansbury discussed infrastructure issues and grants that could help fix those issues during a roundtable discussion at Rio Rancho City…
Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

Questions remain about governor’s strategic water supply proposal

The proposed strategic water supply had a rocky road this legislative session that ultimately resulted in it not making it through even one chamber.…
Hearing examiner recommends that PRC reject controversial LNG storage facility

Hearing examiner recommends that PRC reject controversial LNG storage facility

New Mexico Public Regulation Commission Hearing Examiner Anthony Medeiros recommended that the commissioners deny New Mexico Gas Company’s request to build, own and operate…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report