Public Defender Ramps Up Fight Against Albuquerque Judges

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — New Mexico’s Chief Public Defender has filed a class action against the judges of Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court, which covers Albuquerque, for failing to release felony detainees who wait more than 10 days before being seen by a judge.

A Bernalillo County judicial rule states that people accused of felony offenses must be given a preliminary examination within 10 days if they’re in custody, or 60 days if they are not, or the case against them must be dismissed without prejudice and the defendant released.

But lead plaintiffs Dairon Romero and Dustin Jessamine were held in custody for weeks without a preliminary examination before their cases were dismissed, and the 37-page complaint lists many other current and recent cases where defendants were held well past the 10-day limit before their felony cases were dismissed.

The petition for a writ of mandamus enforcing the preliminary examination rule was filed on Monday by Bennett Baur, the state’s Chief Public Defender, against the judges in charge of Romero’s and Jessamine’s cases and all other Bernalillo Metro judges who have violated the rule.

Baur is no stranger to confrontation with New Mexico’s courts. In December 2016, he was held in contempt of court and fined $5,000 for refusing to represent clients in five criminal cases. Baur said he turned down the cases because the strained resources of the Public Defender’s Office prevented his staff from adequately representing the clients.

Baur’s predecessor, Jorge Alvarado, resigned in March 2016, citing inadequate funding and “resistance” and interference that kept him from doing his job. He cited low pay for staff attorneys and contract attorneys. According to the NMPoliticalReport.com, Alvarado asked for a large funding increase for the year he resigned, but his office was funded with less than $1 million.

Now Baur says in his complaint in Bernalillo County Court that Albuquerque’s metro judges have no consistent system to identify cases which are approaching or have passed the time limit for preliminary examinations.

For a while, Baur’s office would submit daily lists to Bernalillo Country Metropolitan Court Chief Judge Edward Benavidez, who would dismiss cases which passed the 10-day limit. But Benavidez never addressed cases that had passed the 60-day limit, and eventually stopped dismissing any cases, Baur says.

He seeks a writ of supervisory control ordering the judges to implement the dismissal rule immediately.

The petition was filed by Assistant Public Defender Alan Wagman.

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