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Judge dismisses federal lawsuit over new bond rules

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

A U.S. district judge has thrown out the federal class-action lawsuit against the state Supreme Court and its judges over rules affecting pretrial detention, finding that the claims raised are without merit.

“Criminal defendants have never been guaranteed the option of monetary bail under New Mexico law in existence before or after the 2017 rules,” U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell wrote in his 42-page ruling issued Monday.

The lawsuit was filed in July by the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico, a handful of Democratic and Republican state lawmakers and a woman who spent five days at the Metropolitan Detention Center. The plaintiffs had sought an injunction to prevent courts from using the new Supreme Court rules, arguing that those rules are unconstitutional because “the availability of bail is enshrined in the Bill of Rights.”

Among the defendants named in the lawsuit were New Mexico’s Supreme Court justices, the chief judges of the 2nd Judicial District Court and Metropolitan Court and the Bernalillo County Commission.

The Supreme Court issued the rules after voters in November 2016 supported a constitutional amendment that said people could be held in jail without bail until their trial if they are found to be a danger to the community. It also said inmates who are not a risk could be released from custody even if they couldn’t afford a monetary bond. The rules went into effect in July.

The bond association said the rules have decimated its profession, as most defendants are being released from custody as soon as they appear before a judge without having to post a bond.

Barry Massey, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said he was aware of the federal court ruling but could not comment late Monday. In a court filing in August, the Supreme Court and other defendants called the lawsuit a desperate move by the bail bonding industry to regain control over pretrial release practices.

The president of the New Mexico Bail Bonds Association expressed dismay at Monday’s ruling.

“I’m disappointed, of course,” said Gerald Madrid. “It didn’t appear we were close on any of our issues.”

Madrid said he’d be meeting with Blair Dunn, the attorney for the bail bonds association, today to discuss options. “It’s just crushing. … It’s overwhelming for the (bond) industry,” he said. “I don’t see anything that’s positive that’s come of these changes to court rules.”

In his ruling, Judge Junell granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit and denied plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint, determining that all the federal claims they wanted to add would be futile. He also found that the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and individual state lawmakers lack standing to bring the suit, although he did find that Darlene Collins – the plaintiff in the lawsuit who spent about five days in jail in July – did have standing to file the lawsuit.

Junell then went through an exhaustive analysis of the claims raised in the lawsuit and why they cannot move forward.

“In the present case, the fact that Collins was released on her own recognizance with minimal conditions does not shock the Court’s conscience, nor does the absence of a monetary bail option in lieu of, or in addition to, any potential restrictions that are aimed at deterring dangerousness,” Junell wrote. “Moreover, Collins failed to challenge any nonmonetary conditions of release when she had the opportunity to do so at her pretrial detention hearing. Either way, Plaintiffs present no grounds for finding that a criminal defendant’s option to obtain monetary bail is a fundamental right or implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”

 

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