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Barbara Romo - District Attorney

As I write this, the 60-day legislative session has just begun.

For a District Attorney a legislative session involves several things. Of course during the session the various finance committees meet to determine what the budget will be for our office (indeed all state agencies) for the next fiscal year. In years past my district has been approved for a specific number of positions. However to date we have not received the funds to hire people to fill those positions. This year our budget request over and above our operating funds is focused on obtaining funds to fill our empty positions. Filling our empty positions will result in more manageable caseloads for our attorneys and support staff. Currently attorneys are carrying on average 245 cases. For a staff person with two attorneys their caseloads are double.

In her State of the State address Governor Lujan-Grisham spoke of her commitment to safety, reducing crime and the importance of law enforcement partnerships. She gave the example of recently graduating the largest class of cadets at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. She vowed that she would “fight tooth and nail to keep our communities safe” and to that end she is committing one hundred million dollars toward law enforcement recruitment and training with the end goal of making New Mexico the “safest state in the nation”. We support law enforcement because they are perhaps the most important partnerships we have as prosecutors of crime. They bring us the cases, and if they have done their work well, we can then prosecute the criminals. It’s important to recognize that it takes the work of both the District Attorneys AND Law Enforcement working in partnership to address the problem of crime and work toward making our communities safe. Part of my work and the work of my fellow District Attorneys during the legislature is to further on-going dialogue with our legislators to create awareness that increasing the budget for law enforcement is only one part of the equation. If we do not have the personnel and the dollars to support our staff, it won’t matter how many bad actors law enforcement gets off the street. My attorneys and staff work tirelessly. But they are human and can only do what is humanly possible. It is our job as prosecutors to see the perpetrators of crimes through the judicial system. The judges and juries decide the outcome. All these entities need an increase in financial support to make the state safer.

During the legislative session District Attorneys also track bills that are being considered which may change or somehow impact the work we do. For example some of the bills we are currently following and providing legal commentary on are HB87-264 Domestic Violence and Firearm Possession, HB104-264 No Statute of Limitations on 2nd Degree Murder and HB307-264 Criminal Sexual Contact with a Minor Penalty. A complete list of the bills we are tracking can be found HERE

For the last several years I have been working to secure an amendment to the Victims of Crime Act to include certain enumerated crimes against a peace officer. This amendment would give peace officers the same rights and benefits as all other victims of enumerated crimes. For example, the right to be heard in court and the right to confer with prosecutors regarding the status and disposition of a case and the right for reparations such as loss of wages and home health care. I’ve put this bill forward for several years. It hasn’t been placed on the schedule for a vote which means I begin again the following year. You can find a list of enumerated crimes at this LINK.

In 2015 Rio Rancho Police Officer Greg Benner was gunned down during a traffic stop. In 2016 I prosecuted Andrew Romero, the shooter, resulting in a guilty verdict and life imprisonment without parole. While working on that case, I made a vow to fight to give law enforcement officers assaulted and harmed in the line of duty the same rights as other victims of violent crimes.

From the time I first learned of Officer Benner’s Murder and over the course of the 14 months of preparation for the trial, I saw the devastating impact the murder of one of our sworn protectors has on the entire community. I find it unconscionable that the men and women who put their lives on the line every day for our community do not enjoy the same rights as other crime victims who suffer the same harm. It seems inconsistent with the Governor’s stated purpose of supporting law enforcement with additional resources to not afford the same rights to law enforcement as other victims of crime.

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By District Attorney Barbara Romo

It is not uncommon during an election cycle to hear and read about crime rates, with refrains such as “S/he is soft on crime.” As District Attorney, crime is an everyday part of my life so I can say with conviction that I am familiar with crime in my district. It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback on who is or is not soft on crime, but the real story is more complicated.

A recent newspaper article proclaimed that cases prosecuted by New Mexico District Attorneys have fallen by 29 percent between 2017 and 2021. I cannot speak for other districts across the state, but I know this is not true for my district. Prosecutions in my district have risen 30% between 2017 and 2021 all during an exceptional slowdown in the courts during the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic resulting in delays getting cases in front of judges and Grand Juries especially when courts were literally closed.

A statement that prosecutions are down doesn’t take into consideration that there are several ways to handle cases which do not involve prosecution as such. My sworn duty is about seeking justice not only convictions. When appropriate and the evidence supports it, we vigorously pursue a conviction, and we work hard to get it even in cases where we have circumstances working against us. For example, witnesses are sometimes afraid to testify or may have credibility issues. Looking only at convictions and the prosecution rate is misleading.

Cases may be settled via diversion programs which often suit all the parties involved in a case more than going to court. In our district we have the option of Pre-Prosecution Diversion for first time non-violent offenders, Mental Health Court, and Drug Court. The public has time and again voiced support for diversion programs which don’t qualify as “prosecutions” when looking at the statistics. Referrals to Pre-prosecution Diversion increased 54% in the same time frame.

The Legislative Finance Committee recently published a report that stated that cases adjudicated by jury trial decreased by 47% between the fiscal year 2017 and 2021. Some of the decrease is explained by COVID as mentioned earlier. My fellow District Attorneys and I have frequent discussions about the measure of the prosecution rate and convictions. We don’t agree on all points. But we do agree that the “quality of the prosecution over the quantity” is a necessary measure of evaluation.

The committees who evaluate our budget requests impose certain statistical performance measures to determine if we should receive an increase in our budget. Imposing these measures in a bubble without fully understanding what prosecutors must take into consideration never fully addresses crime, which one legislator termed the “preeminent issue on New Mexican’s minds”.

Our ethical obligation is to confidently prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The charges we seek are restricted by law. For example, my office recently obtained a life sentence following the conviction of Leland Hust for raping and murdering a six-year-old girl. One of my constituents was shocked to find out that “Life” in New Mexico includes the possibility of parole after 30 years. Our prosecution team secured a conviction of a life sentence, but the law in the State of New Mexico says he may not serve life. As prosecutors, we are only as good as the laws we work with.

After pleading guilty to the murder of Anthony and David Lopez in Valencia County Isaac Jaramillo was sentenced to a total of 14 years (6 years each voluntary manslaughter, and one year for the firearms enhancement). Some in the community have wondered aloud, “that’s it?”. In this case there was an eyewitness to the murders who was also a victim who made herself unavailable to testify in a jury trial. A successful jury trial is nearly impossible without the testimony of a key witness. This made this guilty plea and sentencing the most effective solution to this case. Though not adjudicated by a jury trial the case was prosecuted nevertheless, resulting in imprisonment.

When the legislative finance committee runs its numbers, it looks at prosecutions verses the number of cases referred to each district attorney’s office. A case referral doesn’t necessarily equal a viable case to prosecute. As a prosecutor, I will say it again, my job is not just convictions. I am duty bound to seek justice within the law. Behind every statistic there are people, defendants, victims, circumstances, and laws. These must be considered and weighed in the balance of seeking justice and keeping the community safe.

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By Chief Administrative Officer Melissa Howden

When District Attorney Romo took office a year and a half ago she said, “I intend for this office to be seen as a value to the community not just as something that puts bad guys in jail.”

One of the initial actions taken toward the goal of full community engagement was to encourage our staff to engage in community service. By giving staff time off for volunteer hours, we have made it increasingly possible for staff and their families, to invest in the communities of our district.

This initiative has supplemented and supported the work that is already taking place in the communities of the 13th Judicial District. For example, staff members have participated in fundraising and awareness walks for MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), and contributed to a drive for clothing and hygiene supplies for women in the emergency shelters Haven House and Valencia County Shelter Services and helped with food assistance and distribution through People Helping People. Staff members have “adopted” families in shelters for the holidays and some of our attorneys have volunteered as judges for high school mock trials. The Sandoval County Office annually supports Leadership Sandoval County at one of the largest community events in the district, the football game between rivals Rio Rancho and Cleveland High Schools with giveaways, informational presentations and community games led by the SWAT team.

We have also participated in parades and community awareness events hosted by many of our valued partners in the community such as Valencia County Shelter Services, Guardians of the Children Rio Grande Chapter, National Night Out sponsored by the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office, and the Los Lunas and Belen Rotary Clubs to name a few. Our offices have hosted Chamber of Commerce After Hours Open Houses in both Sandoval and Cibola Counties. Our hope is that in the not too distance future we will be able to do the same with the Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce in our Cibola County Office.

Community Education in the Schools

With the new school year starting we have begun a new initiative with the schools. We have reached out to all the Principals in Middle and High Schools throughout the 13th Judicial District to initiate education programs in the schools presented by District Attorney Romo and other staff members on subjects of import to young people for example, Truancy, Consent, Bullying and Cyber Bullying, Sexting, Gangs, Assault, and Drinking and Driving. In the context of this program school officials let us know which topics would be the best for them, for the appropriate age group and what format will serve them best. In some cases, it may be a school-wide assembly, in others a classroom-by-classroom approach. One school in Los Lunas has already requested that addition to student presentations, they would like to include a parent’s night. We do not yet know what format a parent’s night will take. It may take the form of a town hall or something else entirely. Our intention is to serve the schools and the students in the manner which meets their needs. The schools take the lead.

This is a pilot program for us. Once we have a strong foothold, we hope to expand the offerings to Senior Centers, Veterans Groups and more. The Criminal Justice system is a series of interlocking partnerships and agencies just one of which is the District Attorney’s Office. So too does the D. A’s Office interlock in partnership within the communities we serve. The effectiveness of our partnership with the community cannot ride just on conviction rates though those too are of course important. The District Attorney’s Office sees the importance of our activities in terms of the impact on our neighborhoods and the necessity to adapt to the needs of our communities in whatever ways possible. This is the way in which we can invest in the communities in which we work and create meaningful impact one event, one school, one community at a time,

If your organization or school would like to partner with us on a community education and engagement program, please reach out to us by writing to

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