A southwestern New Mexico district attorney has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from a 2016 traffic stop, and state Attorney General Hector Balderas demanded Tuesday that she resign.
Francesca Martinez-Estevez entered pleas Monday to a charge of reckless driving and two counts of disorderly conduct. State District Judge Douglas Driggers ordered her to serve a year of unsupervised probation, despite prosecutors’ calls for her to spend more than a year in jail. If she successfully completes probation, the charges can be dismissed.
Her attorney, Jim Foy, said Tuesday that his client will not resign and that the decision by the judge was fair to issue a conditional discharge given that Martinez-Estevez had “an incredibly clean record.”
Foy also said he was confident Martinez-Estevez could uphold the integrity of the district attorney’s office despite her legal troubles.
“We’re talking about minor stuff here. We’re talking about traffic misdemeanors,” Foy told The Associated Press. “These are not felonies.”
Balderas said he was frustrated with the outcome and questioned Martinez-Estevez’s ability to serve as the chief prosecutor for a district that includes Silver City and the surrounding area. He said her conduct amounts to a violation of the public trust.
“I am angered and frustrated that unlike any other citizen, District Attorney Estevez was able to use the weight of her elected position to manipulate local law enforcement to receive special treatment as she attempted to avoid a full investigation and potential charge of DWI in 2016,” Balderas said in a statement. “When you recklessly endanger the public, you should not be the person charged with enforcing the law.”
Foy argued that the Attorney General’s Office has no basis for asking Martinez-Estevez to resign as the case won’t be fully adjudicated until she completes her probation.
In a letter sent late Monday to Martinez-Estevez, the Attorney General’s Office called for her resignation while saying that prosecutors are held to a higher standard and have heightened accountability for their conduct.
Martinez-Estevez, a Democrat, won re-election in 2016. Had she not entered the pleas, a 10-day trial was scheduled to start this week in Las Cruces.
Martinez-Estevez initially faced multiple charges after the traffic stop near Silver City and was accused of abusing her power. Prosecutors are still appealing an earlier decision to drop charges related to alleged violations of state governmental conduct rules.
At the time of the stop, officers thought Martinez-Estevez was impaired but didn’t test her. Internal investigations were done by both Silver City police and state police, and the officers involved were disciplined for how they handled the stop.