Editorial: The next District 2 DA must be a proven leader

“Wanted: Proven Crime Fighter.”

That should be the sign in the window of the governor’s office for the state’s largest and busiest district attorney’s office.

Second District Attorney Raúl Torrez, whose district is Bernalillo County, will resign at some point before being sworn in as New Mexico’s new Attorney General on Jan. 1. His four-year term as prosecutor ends December 31, 2024, meaning a successor must be named to fill the position for two years.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has sole authority to fill vacant DA positions. Confirmation by the Senate is not required. DAs are not subject to term limits and are therefore entitled to serve an indefinite term. The governor’s commissioner will be only the third person to lead the office in 22 years.

Applications are due by December 2nd. Minimum qualifications include a law degree from an accredited law school and seven years of legal practice experience. That’s a pretty low bar for the chief prosecutor in the state’s most populous and crime-ridden county.

Torrez, who was first elected prosecutor in 2016 and again in 2020, had strong credentials as a DA candidate as a former federal attorney and assistant attorney general of New Mexico. When he took over the office in January 2017, he inherited a clutter of 8,000 boxes of unpublished crime files lining hallways and rooms in the Steve Schiff Building. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a new – albeit smaller – backlog.

When Torrez took office, he increased the grand jury’s capacity to reduce crime backlogs, invested in technology to share real-time crime data, advocated stricter rules on release before trial to catch more violent offenders, and worked to Alleviate the secondary trauma of sex crimes Victims of assault and child abuse by aligning criminal procedures with national standards.

This record helped him get elected Attorney General.

A group of 49 trial attorneys at the 2nd Circuit District Attorney’s office said in a letter to the governor last week that the next district attorney’s office would face a “Herculean task” of managing over a thousand cases that will be filed in the first half of 2023 18 letters, trial attorneys say the job should go to someone who can immediately pick up where Torrez left off for the “safety and well-being of our community,” while proposing three current assistant prosecutors in the office, to replace Torrez.

The governor has an important decision to make. Whether the next prosecutor should come from inside or outside the office is a matter of debate. The bottom line is that the next DA will have strong prosecutorial and case management experience, a passion for fighting crime, and the ability to work well with lawmakers.

Working with lawmakers is key to advancing the criminal justice system.

There are currently 84 trial attorneys in the 2nd Circuit District Attorney’s Office and that is demonstrably insufficient. The Bureau initiates between 7,000 and 9,700 prosecutions for adult crimes each year. Both our public prosecutor’s office and our public defenders need more government resources. Clearing its backlog is imperative for the state’s largest prosecutor’s office, as victims and suspects of crime deserve swift justice.

Politics should play absolutely no role. The job should go to the most qualified candidate, not the most connected, because Bernalillo County must have a proven crimefighter to succeed Torrez.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is not signed as it represents the opinion of the newspaper and not that of the authors.