Prosecutors and defense lawyers have shielded records from public view without a judge’s order in New Mexico’s federal courts, an apparent violation of the U.S. District Court of New Mexico’s own rules, New Mexico In Depth has learned. Judges, not lawyers, are supposed to decide which documents are made available to the public and which should remain secret through an established protocol based in part on decades of case law: Attorneys must submit a written request asking a judge to seal records and a judge must consent before records are sealed. Despite this well-known standard, in numerous instances spread among three criminal cases, the New Mexico offices of the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Public Defender have decided unilaterally to make documents secret without a judge’s order, according to a review of federal court records by NMID. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth. It is not clear how many of the thousands of federal court records each year have been sealed this way, but one federal public defender says the practice has gone on for years.
A federal judge has taken the unusual step of ordering a politically ambitious New Mexico attorney to pay back the state for filing a “frivolous” lawsuit aimed at undoing efforts to reform the state’s commercial bail system. The attorney, Blair Dunn, a Libertarian who earlier this week announced a run for state attorney general, must pay “reasonable costs and attorneys fees” to the office he seeks to occupy by year’s end, under the ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth. Junell, a George W. Bush appointee from the Western District of Texas, presided over the suit because the Attorney General’s Office represented the judges Dunn was suing, from the New Mexico Supreme Court, the Second Judicial District Court and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Dunn sued last year on behalf of a group of state lawmakers, the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and a woman who was released from jail last year.
New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of inmates in privately run, for-profit prisons than any other state, according to a new analysis from the Sentencing Project. It’s a designation New Mexico has held for many years. More than 42 percent of people imprisoned here were being held in one of the state’s five private prisons at the end of 2015, according to the analysis, which is based on figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Three of those prisons are operated by GEO Group, Inc.; Core Civic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and Management and Training Corporation each run a prison in New Mexico as well. This story originally appeared in New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.
An Albuquerque city councilor is calling for a congressional investigation of a massive, undercover federal sting operation that targeted a poor, largely minority section of his district last year in an attempt to blunt the city’s gun and drug crime. Pat Davis, a Democrat who represents the International District and is running for Congress himself, filed a resolution on Friday that, if passed by the Albuquerque City Council, would ask New Mexico’s congressional delegation to push for hearings on the sting operation. The four-month sting was undertaken by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). In addition, the resolution asks the ATF and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the 103 people arrested in the sting, to apprise city officials of the details of the operation. The resolution, which will be formally introduced at a Sept.
Jennifer Padilla’s boyfriend was pleading: Call people you used to run with, hook me up with some meth deals so I can pay off my Florida partners. He’d been robbed and needed cash, he kept saying. He’d be hurt if she didn’t. On parole after a year in prison for a string of Santa Fe burglaries and struggling to stay off drugs, Padilla was conflicted. Stepping back into the drug world unnerved her, but she refused to see the man she loved in danger. This story originally appeared in New Mexico In Depth, in partnership with the Santa Fe Reporter, and is reprinted with permission. Two calls to three old acquaintances led to a pair of methamphetamine deals last July.
A lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon in Santa Fe District Court aims to uncover how much New Mexico taxpayers shelled out for a private attorney to represent Gov. Susana Martinez’s office in a number of court cases. Journalist Jeff Proctor* filed the lawsuit against the state’s General Services Department (GSD) for not releasing attorney Paul Kennedy’s invoices for his public work, claiming the department failed to comply with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The suit calls for the state to release specific invoices and bills that show how much the state has paid Kennedy to represent Martinez as contract counsel in several cases. In addition to retaining Kennedy, Martinez also has access to four state employed legal staff, whose combined salaries total $341,850. The lawsuit states by not releasing Kennedy’s billing records GSD not only violated the open records law, “but also offend the spirit and intent of the law governing matters of public concern.”
That spirit of the law, said Proctor’s lawyer Frank Davis, “is to make sure we have an informed electorate.”
“We need to know where dollars are being spent,” Davis said.
One of the men who helped the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF) search for potential targets in a sweeping undercover drug and gun sting operation in Albuquerque last year is paid an $80,000 annual salary, court filings show. The man appears to have been released early from a 10-year federal prison sentence and goes “around the country with his handlers creating crime for the government to prosecute” as a ‘“confidential informant,” the documents say. Related: Feds’ sting ensnared many ABQ blacks, not ‘worst of the worst’
Another informant ATF brought to Albuquerque for the operation is paid $1,400 a week plus occasional “bonuses,” he said under oath, according to a recording from a state court hearing obtained by New Mexico In Depth. He did not say what the bonuses were for. That informant considers working for the ATF his full-time job.
Albuquerque police Detective Herman Martinez had an anonymous tip: a man and woman had warrants out for their arrests, they had been selling large amounts of heroin in the city, and the man had a gun. So shortly after noon on June 28, Martinez and seven other plainclothes officers from the APD Narcotics and Vice units followed Camille Gabaldon, 38, and 37-year-old Greg Chaparro, in unmarked police cars as the pair drove through the city in a maroon sedan. This story first appeared in New Mexico In Depth. It is reprinted with permission. Within an hour, the officers were in another fraught drug investigation — the third such incident involving the Narcotics Unit and street-level users during the last several weeks. The June 28 encounter provides another lens through which to view a New Mexico version of the tension between law enforcement and marginalized communities that is roiling the nation.
Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden has offered a full-throated defense of his department’s increasingly controversial “reversal narcotic operations,” including one on May 9 in which undercover officers posed as drug dealers along East Central Avenue, sold and traded small amounts of crack cocaine and methamphetamine to homeless people, then arrested them on felony possession charges. The operations improve “quality of life” for area businesses and residents, decrease property crimes, gain intelligence for narcotics detectives to use in future cases and provide those arrested access to addiction and mental health services they otherwise shun, Eden wrote in a letter dated Wednesday to City Councilor Pat Davis*. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is used with permission. Davis, whose council district includes the area where APD detectives made the arrests on May 9, asked Eden in a May 20 letter to suspend the “low-level” operations, calling them “misguided” and saying they “target the symptom of a larger problem without bringing any long-term benefit to the community.”
The chief said in his letter that the operations would continue, though the department’s “focus has never been to target the homeless population.”
In the May 9 operation, APD detectives accepted $3, colic medication, clothing, used electronics and other paltry sums for drugs. At least six of the eight arrested were homeless people of color.
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.