Dem contenders for state AG spar over experience - Albuquerque Journal

Dem contenders for state AG spar over experience

District Attorney Raúl Torrez, left, and State Auditor Brian Colón trade barbs during a televised debate on Wednesday. The two, who are seeking to be the democratic nominee for attorney general, took part in the debate held by KOAT-TV, the Journal and KKOB. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The two candidates running for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general sparred over their qualifications during a televised debate Wednesday, and vowed to use the power of the office, if elected, to increase gun safety in New Mexico.

State Auditor Brian Colón said he backs reforms to increase school safety, adding, “The days of saying our thoughts and prayers are with you are over.”

Raúl Torrez, 2nd Judicial District Attorney in Albuquerque, noted he was a chief advocate of a bill for universal background checks at the state Legislature, adding “we need to focus on prevention.”

In one of the more heated exchanges of the night, Torrez took Colón to task for taking $175,000 in campaign contributions from out-of-state firms. Torrez said those firms expect to be selected by the AG to bring major consumer litigation on behalf of the state.

“This kind of pay-to-play scheme has to stop,” said Torrez. “We need to rebuild the consumer protection division inside the office and we need to train real litigators.”

Torrez said the one local law firm selected by current AG Hector Balderas to work on those cases is Robles, Rael & Anaya, the firm Colón was associated with before being elected state auditor.

Colón fired back that Torrez is accepting campaign contributions from in-state attorneys who have cases being prosecuted by Torrez’s office, but didn’t offer details.

Colón said the hiring of out-of-state firms is a successful model endorsed by the last several state attorneys general that has brought in millions of dollars to New Mexico, but said his opponent “likes to use it as a political cheap shot.”

He said the law firms, “just know that I believe in the approach and my opponent says he wants to decimate it. That’s why contributions come in.”

The winner of the June 7 Democratic primary faces Gallup attorney Jeremy Gay in the general election. Balderas, the current AG, is term limited.

The AG serves as New Mexico’s top law enforcement officer and top lawyer, whose duties also include consumer protection.

Colón, a former state Democratic Party chief, touted his ability to bring various groups together, stating, “The DAs in New Mexico have not had a good experience working with my opponent.”

Torrez, who led an unsuccessful push last legislative session to make it easier to detain certain violent defendants prior to trial, reiterated his experience as a prosecutor. To that Colón asked, “How’s your conviction rate going?”

Colón has previously cited a legislative study showing the DA’s Office under Torrez had a 59% conviction rate for violent felony cases in 2020, although Torrez released data showing a 78% conviction rate for such cases.

Torrez emphasized his 20 years as a prosecutor, both in the state and federal systems.

To address violent crime in New Mexico, he said, “The first thing we need is to have an AG who has experience working inside the courtroom.” He also advocated prevention measures to address destabilized homes, and child abuse and neglect.

Colón said he has broad experience as a civil litigator for 21 years. And, he added, he has prosecuted cases, “even when I was a law clerk.”

To that Torrez said, “You haven’t managed a single attorney in this broad career you say you had. No one has seen you in the courtroom.”

Colón touted his record in uncovering wrongdoing involving public officials through audits his office has conducted.

By comparison, he added, Torrez actually has “pretty narrow experience.”

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