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Objection! Veto vexes mock trial backers

Pojoaque’s Samantha Baca appears as a witness under cross-examination by Albuquerque Academy’s Raajvi Patel during the state mock trial competition on March 17.

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Supporters of New Mexico’s mock trial competition for high school students say they’re puzzled over why Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed funding for the program in next year’s budget.

And the future of the 40-year-old competition is now in doubt, they say.

Martinez vetoed a $100,000 appropriation for the program when she acted on the $6.3 billion state budget earlier this month.

In a message to legislators, she wrote that funding “for this purpose is generally provided to the Attorney General.”

But the Attorney General’s Office didn’t receive any money for the program elsewhere in the budget, supporters said.

Instead, the University of New Mexico agreed to serve as the fiscal agent to receive state funding for next year’s competition. Supporters said they believed the UNM School of Law would be a good fit for handling the money.

State Sen. Steven Neville, R-Aztec, said the program has changed fiscal agents a few times over the years, and the Attorney General’s Office has handled it some years.

Albuquerque Academy’s Stella Asmerom cross-examines a witness, classmate Andrew Pick-Roth, during the state mock trial competition March 17. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

In any case, he said, the program is deserving of the money. It helps students build skills in public speaking, analyzing arguments and thinking on their feet, he and other supporters said.

“Those kinds of things are good for kids to learn,” Neville said, “no matter what your vocation is.”

A spokeswoman for Martinez wouldn’t elaborate on the reason for the veto.

The nonprofit Center for Civic Values, which runs the competition, says other funding will be necessary to keep the event going.

“We don’t have enough money right now,” said Lynda Latta, an Albuquerque lawyer who serves as chairwoman of the center’s board. “… We have to come up with grants or something, or we will not have a competition next year.”

This is the second consecutive year without state funding, and Latta said the organization cannot absorb two years without the funding. The competition didn’t receive state money amid New Mexico’s budget crisis last year.

The center is seeking donations on its website,

This year’s final competition was held March 16-17. Twenty-seven teams competed, and eight advanced to the finals.

Finalists included teams from Albuquerque Academy, Volcano Vista High School, Pojoaque High School, Albuquerque High School and Atrisco Heritage Academy.

A team from Albuquerque Academy won and will advance to the national competition. New Mexico teams won the national competition in 2012 and 2013.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas, said the attorney general “supports Mock Trial and is grateful to the many volunteers and students who participate in the program.”

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