Citing COVID-19, Sandoval County attorney seeks court order to release non-violent inmates

Commissioners for New Mexico’s fourth largest county on Thursday asked a judge to release non-violent jail inmates “during the State of Emergency caused by the COVID-19 virus,” New Mexico In Depth has learned. Sandoval County Attorney Robin Hammer on Thursday filed a three-page petition for writ of mandamus — a fast-tracking procedure used in exceptional circumstances — asking the District Court to blunt the “serious health risk” of the new coronavirus to those inside the jail by releasing people immediately. Hammer’s petition also asks the court to prohibit future bookings of anyone else charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent felony into the detention center until Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifts her State of Emergency declaration. The petition is set to be heard Tuesday by Chief District Judge George Eichwald. The move marks the first time a voice from outside New Mexico’s criminal defense community has called for releasing inmates amid the growing COVID-19 crisis.

UPDATED: DA with six-figure salary claims poverty, judge grants her free lawyer

Editor’s note:

New Mexico Chief Public Defender Bennet Baur told NMID reporter Jeff Proctor during an interview in late June that he knew nothing about a public defender being appointed for southern New Mexico district attorney Francesca Estevez. On Monday evening, Baur emailed to say, in fact, his office had hired a private attorney, Keren Fenderson, to file a motion on Estevez’s behalf without informing Estevez. In a telephone interview Tuesday, Baur confirmed that he was unaware of the arrangement at the time of the interview with Proctor. Francesca Estevez is too poor to pay for a lawyer. That’s according to state District Judge Douglas Driggers of Las Cruces, who made the finding in a May 1 court order appointing the public defender’s office to represent Estevez as prosecutors pursue alleged violations of the Government Misconduct Act against her.