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A group of 49 trial attorneys in the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Albuquerque has signed a letter asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to appoint one of three current deputy prosecutors in the office to replace outgoing DA Raúl Torrez.
Two of the three, interviewed by the Journal on Tuesday, said they didn’t know about the letter until reading about it on a political website. Those two were Deputy District Attorney John Duran, who oversees the DA’s major crimes division, and Diana Garcia, the deputy district attorney for the DA’s juvenile division. Duran said he is interested in the position and Garcia said she is considering applying.
The third person recommended was Joshua Boone, deputy district attorney for the Metropolitan Division, who couldn’t be reached for comment. He is featured in a website announcing his wish to become the next district attorney.
The letter of recommendation has come under attack by former Albuquerque City Councilor Pete Dinelli, who questioned its propriety on his blog. He also blamed Torrez for wanting to continue his influence over the office and contended the trial attorneys who signed the letter were engaging in “prohibited political activities while on the job.”
Meanwhile, Torrez, who will become state attorney general Jan. 1, disavowed any knowledge of the letter, which was dated Nov. 18.
“Attorney General-Elect Torrez is focused on the ongoing demands of leading the state’s largest prosecution office while simultaneously organizing a smooth transition into the Office of Attorney General. He was not involved in and had no knowledge of the letter submitted by prosecutors in the District Attorney’s Office regarding his possible replacement,” said a DA spokeswoman.
Torrez won election to the post of state attorney general earlier this month, and leaves the DA’s Office Dec. 31. The governor is tasked with appointing someone to fill the remaining two years of his second term. The deadline for applications is Dec. 2 and a spokeswoman for the governor said the office has received “a number of letters of interest.”
The appointee will be only the third person in 22 years to run the office.
First elected in 2016, Torrez is a former federal prosecutor and assistant attorney general. He won reelection in 2020. His predecessor, Kari Brandenburg, was elected in 2000 and became the first woman elected to serve as DA. She opted against running again after being elected to four terms.
The change in leadership comes at a time when crime reigns as a pressing concern of the public, and prosecutors in Albuquerque are facing a backlog of criminal cases “that accumulated under the delays caused by the pandemic,” the letter stated.
“In the first half of 2023 alone, the next District Attorney will have to deal with over a thousand cases that have been set for trial in the District Court,” the letter states. “It will be imperative to the success of this office and therefore the safety and welfare of our community to have a District Attorney that can hit the ground running.”
The letter did not appear to be on official DA letterhead.
Asked about the letter, Garcia, who has been with the DA’s Office 16 years, said Tuesday, “I wasn’t a part of it at all.”
She said she first learned about the letter from the Joe Monahan political blog and is considering applying for the job.
Duran, meanwhile, also said he didn’t know about the letter until he read about it on the Monahan blog. A former Metro Court judge, he has been with the office about 15 years.
“I’ve never seen the letter and no one asked me for permission to use my name,” he said. He also said is interested in being appointed, but has not yet applied.
Duran also dismissed Dinelli’s accusations as “far reaching.”
Dinelli, who was a chief deputy district attorney in the 1990s, has been a frequent critic of Torrez’s. In a recent blog post, Dinelli urged the governor to bring in an outsider to run the office.
Moreover, Dinelli questioned whether personnel rules or regulations for state employees were violated. He couldn’t be reached on Tuesday.
Writing or signing letters of recommendation “is clearly prohibited ‘political activity’ while on duty,” he wrote. It wasn’t clear, though, where or when the letter was written or signed.
Dinelli wrote that Torrez needs to demand the letter be withdrawn immediately and demand an apology from the attorneys who signed it.
The 49 attorneys are among 84 trial attorneys employed at the office.
In their letter, they contended the “herculean job” of running the DA’s Office should go to someone who can immediately pick up where Torrez left off.
“We all want to do everything in our power to keep Bernalillo County safe,” stated the letter, “and we need a leader who will enable us to do exactly that.”
Boone, who has been with the DA’s Office for six years, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
He has a website titled, “Joshua Boone for District Attorney.”
The website describes his current duties, describes the workload of his attorneys, sets out his plan for running the office, and states, “With your support, I promise to do everything that I can to make Albuquerque the safe and enchanted city it can and must become.”
Those who want to know more are asked to visit boonefornewmexico.com.