NM’s skeletal criminal justice system needs a cash infusion

New Mexico’s judges are the lowest paid in the country. Its chronically underfunded public defenders struggle to represent clients in one of the nation’s poorest states. And prosecutors say they need more money to blunt increases in crime. This situation awaits New Mexico state lawmakers when they convene Tuesday for the 2018 session in Santa Fe. But, for the first time in years, thanks to a projected $200 million to $300 million more in revenue than anticipated, the Legislature could spread serious money around New Mexico’s skeletal criminal justice system after recent budget cuts and years of austerity.

Federal judge slaps NM attorney in bail reform lawsuit

A federal judge has taken the unusual step of ordering a politically ambitious New Mexico attorney to pay back the state for filing a “frivolous” lawsuit aimed at undoing efforts to reform the state’s commercial bail system. The attorney, Blair Dunn, a Libertarian who earlier this week announced a run for state attorney general, must pay “reasonable costs and attorneys fees” to the office he seeks to occupy by year’s end, under the ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert A. Junell. Junell, a George W. Bush appointee from the Western District of Texas, presided over the suit because the Attorney General’s Office represented the judges Dunn was suing, from the New Mexico Supreme Court, the Second Judicial District Court and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. Dunn sued last year on behalf of a group of state lawmakers, the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and a woman who was released from jail last year. Junell dismissed the case with prejudice in December, meaning it cannot be refiled.

Woman who alleged informant exploited romantic relationship receives reduced sentence

Jennifer Padilla likely won’t spend a single day locked up in federal prison. Under an agreement accepted Wednesday by U.S. District Judge William P. “Chip” Johnson, the 39-year-old mother of five received 24 months behind bars instead of the 10 to 13 years prosecutors originally wanted. Arrested in August 2016 on methamphetamine trafficking and conspiracy charges, Padilla is one of scores of people who were dubbed among Albuquerque’s “worst of the worst” after their arrests in a controversial 2016 undercover sting by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Padilla’s reduced sentence followed allegations she made in court motions that an ATF informant exploited their romantic relationship to lure her into a crime she would not otherwise have committed. NMID independently verified many of Padilla’s claims and laid them out in a story co-published with the Santa Fe Reporter on Aug.

Candidates question value of Mayor Berry’s ‘groundbreaking’ ABQ crime report

The “groundbreaking research” Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry commissioned on crime — the city’s No. 1 issue — may sit on a shelf unused when his successor takes office Dec. 1. Why? The two candidates headed for a mayoral runoff election next month, two-term Republican city councilor Dan Lewis and Democratic state Auditor Tim Keller, said the information about crime concentration likely won’t guide their crime-fighting plans if elected.

ABQ city council committee delays vote on ATF resolution

An Albuquerque City Council committee voted Monday evening to defer for 90 days a resolution asking New Mexico’s congressional delegation to push for an investigation of a 2016 federal law enforcement operation that netted a highly disproportionate number of black people. Councilor Pat Davis, who sponsored the measure, cast the lone vote to send it to the full City Council. Voting to defer the resolution were councilors Don Harris — who made the motion to delay the vote — Ken Sanchez, Brad Winter and Klarissa Peña. That means the council’s Finance and Government Operations Committee will rehear the resolution after 90 days during which time city officials hope to gather more information. During discussion about the resolution, Sanchez asked what good it would do and why the congressional delegation couldn’t take up the issue on its own.

Video: Former U.S. Attorney offers few answers on controversial ATF sting

Damon Martinez says he would take “seriously” allegations of racial profiling and other questionable tactics alleged about a four-month federal drug and gun sting operation last year if he were still U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. But he won’t say how he viewed his responsibilities for the operation while in the job, which he held until March of this year. He won’t even say whether his former job would have included oversight of the increasingly controversial sting operation despite U.S. Department of Justice manuals describing some of those responsibilities. “I can’t discuss the facts concerning this case,” Martinez said of the 2016 operation, conducted largely by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF). More than half a dozen times during an interview with New Mexico In Depth and New Mexico in Focus, Martinez claimed a host of restrictions that he said barred him from answering most questions — even those involving his opinion — about the operation.

ATF contrast: Accused cop killer vs. low-level drug offenders

Former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez refused to answer numerous questions about a 2016 “worst of the worst” operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. But he had plenty to say about another “worst of the worst” case that involved the ATF and Davon Lymon, who is accused of killing Albuquerque Police Department officer Daniel Webster in 2015.

Woman arrested in ATF sting pleads guilty for reduced sentence

Jennifer Padilla has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute meth in return for a two-year federal prison sentence. If a federal judge accepts the plea deal, the 39-year-old mother of five could be free in less than a year because of the 13 months she’s already spent in the Santa Fe County jail. Friday’s proposed sentence represents a significant reduction from the 10 or more years Padilla was facing behind bars. The plea agreement, negotiated between Padilla’s Santa Fe-based lawyer, L. Val Whitley, and federal prosecutors, came less than two months after Padilla alleged misconduct by a confidential informant in a 2016 operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. New Mexico In Depth and the Santa Fe Reporter detailed Padilla’s allegations last month in a story that included her claims of entrapment and “outrageous government conduct” — two legal arguments Whitley made in a pair of court motions in late July.

Video: Federal sting draws responses in ABQ mayor’s race

Criticism of a massive undercover drug- and gun-crime sting spilled into the Albuquerque mayoral race last week, when candidates were pressed about a 2016 federal law enforcement operation that netted a disproportionate number of black people. It was a serious question, made all the more serious by the man asking: Joe Powdrell, a longtime local activist past president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which sponsored the Sept. 8 forum. The operation has drawn community and legal scrutiny for alleged racial profiling and for scooping up many who did not fit the “worst of the worst” profile trumpeted by federal officials after New Mexico In Depth investigations. Picking up on the alleged racial targeting, Powdrell asked the candidates “where your head is at in terms of this biased policing.”

Only three of the seven candidates who attended the forum addressed the sting directly.

Analysis: NM still tops in nation for reliance on private prisons

New Mexico incarcerates a higher percentage of inmates in privately run, for-profit prisons than any other state, according to a new analysis from the Sentencing Project. More than 42 percent of people imprisoned here were being held in one of the state’s five private prisons at the end of 2015, according to the analysis, which is based on figures from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).