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Justice council urged to be more open

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque police chief, Bernalillo County sheriff, 2nd Judicial District attorney and Albuquerque’s chief administrative officer sent a letter to Attorney General Hector Balderas on Monday asking him to direct the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to comply with the Open Meetings Act.

Their letter says that while prosecutors and law enforcement officials are in favor of making the meetings public, the public defender’s office and court officials raised concerns about complying with the act in a recent meeting.

“The criminal justice system and crime in our community is probably one of the most important issues for the community,” said Adolfo Mendez, the chief of policy and planning for the district attorney. “So it is important for the public to have as much information about the discussions about crime.”

Nan Nash, the chief judge of the 2nd Judicial District, said in an interview that the council members, including the court, agreed at its May meeting to ask the attorney general for his opinion on OMA compliance.

“We all agreed … whatever the AG says we’ll just go along with,” she said. “If the AG opines that we are subject (to OMA), that absolutely decides the issue.”

She said the council, which previously had a different name, has always held public meetings. But because the court was originally in control of the group, its meetings weren’t subject to OMA.

The council meets monthly to address local criminal justice issues, such as conditions at the jail or the length of time it takes to adjudicate different types of criminal cases. Its members consist of officials from the city of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, probation and parole, the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the public defender’s office, the 2nd Judicial District Court, the county’s Metropolitan Court, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the District Attorney’s Office.

“It’s always been the intention that anyone who wanted to attend the meetings could attend the meetings,” Nash said.

To comply with the Open Meetings Act, bodies such as school boards or county commissions have to post agendas prior to meetings and keep minutes, among other rules, according to a compliance guide issued by the Attorney General’s Office, which enforces state sunshine laws. They are also only allowed to discuss topics at their meetings that were put on the official agenda.

“The coordinating council is a body that discusses the public business of public safety and crime reduction in Bernalillo County, formulates public policy concerning the use of criminal justice resources, and takes actions to this end,” says the letter, which was sent Monday. “Accordingly, its meetings must comply with the OMA.”