ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Prosecutors and defense attorneys have begun to iron out possible changes to a case management order that affects cases in Bernalillo County courts and has been blamed for a spike in crime.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez has called for several changes to the order, which set deadlines in criminal cases. He said the rules have caused thousands of case dismissals since they went into effect in February 2015.
Torrez is hosting two workshops this month and has invited defense lawyers and others to offer input.
The state Supreme Court, which put the order in place to address several problems with the Albuquerque-area’s court system, will have final approval of any possible changes.
The first workshop was held July 6. Among other changes, Torrez is trying to give judges more discretion about how to respond if prosecutors miss a deadline, especially if it is because of something outside the prosecution’s hands, like a failure to transport an inmate to court for a hearing.
Ahmad Assed, a criminal defense attorney who attended the workshop, said it was a “good start” to any reforms, but he cautioned Torrez against politicizing the issue. He questioned some of the examples Torrez has highlighted as reasons for making changes to the order.
During the workshop, Torrez referred to Bernabe Torres, an inmate Torrez said refused to get on a transport bus to attend a hearing and his case was then dismissed. Torrez told the Journal that the defense attorney in the case advised the inmate that he could refuse to be transported to court for a hearing.
Torres’ attorney couldn’t be reached for comment.
Court records do indicate Torres’ case was dismissed. They also show that the judge had ordered that Torres be transported to court for the hearing and there’s no indication that prosecutors told the judge why Torres wasn’t transported, Assed said.
“It is not useful to bring forward cases as an example to prove a point without giving the full factual scenario. When you give half stories on any particular case, it doesn’t do the public any good,” he said.
“There was a reason the Supreme Court initiated the CMO. This county, this part of the state, had very significant challenges. We had people waiting to be tried two and three years while they were in custody.”
Torrez said during the workshop that litigating issues such as why an inmate was or wasn’t transported to court for a hearing would strain his office’s resources.
Michael Patrick, a spokesman for Torrez, said prosecutors were encouraged and optimistic after the first workshop.
“We look forward to more participation by the stakeholders who were unable to attend to further the discussion on the necessary changes to the CMO,” he said.