ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Calling it an “extraordinary step,” Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez announced Thursday his office has filed a public records lawsuit against the Second Judicial District Court (covering Bernalillo County,) demanding access to pre-trial GPS monitoring data kept by the district court’s Pretrial Services Division. That data contains the whereabouts of accused criminal suspects, who’ve been released from jail while awaiting trial.

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“The complaint alleges, in short, (the Second Judicial District Court’s record custodian) has violated the Inspection of Public Records Act, by denying this office’s repeated request for GPS record data pertaining to two specific defendants,” Torrez said during Thursday’s news conference. Those defendants include Jesse Mascareno-Haidle who is accused in dozens of burglary cases and Devin Munford, a man accused in a murder case.

“Both of those individuals … we felt needed to be detained pre-trial, we did not prevail in our motions to detain before the court,” Torrez said. “Instead those defendants were placed on GPS monitoring and they were subject to that monitoring when they subsequently engaged in new criminal activity.”

Munford’s accused first-degree murder case is alleged to have occurred while he was under Pre-trial Services’ GPS monitoring for a December 2020 shooting case. In the case of Jesse Mascareno-Haidle, a man accused of as many as 80 burglaries, he is accused of committing more crimes while on GPS monitoring by Pre-trial Services.

Torrez says his office filed an Inspection of Public Records Request with the Second Judicial District Court’s Pre-trial Services Division for both suspects’ GPS monitoring data after subsequent crimes were alleged to have been committed. The DA says both of those requests were denied, citing concerns about the criminal defendant’s privacy and “other legal arguments about why the records shouldn’t be made available to the District Attorney’s Office.

In a written response sent Thursday afternoon, Second Judicial District Court Spokesman Sidney Hill said in part, “Court Administration looks forward to an independent and impartial out-of-district judge reviewing and deciding the matter.” The statement also said Court Administration “carefully considered” federal and state law in analyzing if pretrial services records are exempt from disclosure under IPRA, saying it has “a long-established practice based on law and national best practices pursuant to the National Association of Pretrial Services Standards.” (See full statement below.)

Torrez disagrees. Describing the request Thursday, Torrez said representatives from the Second Judicial District Court offered to make some records available subject to a protective order, which would limit the DA’s Office, APD and the public to access the information.

“We think this is contrary to the spirit of the Inspection of Public Records Act and contrary to the spirit of open government,” Torrez said. “In this instance, there is no ethical justification and no legal justification for shielding these records from public disclosure.”

At the heart of the situation is a disagreement between the Bernalillo County District Attorney and the Administrative Office of the Courts over the effectiveness of the Second Judicial District Court’s pre-trial release system. That system has been highlighted following New Mexico’s voters’ passage of a 2016 constitutional amendment.

The 2016 amendment revamped the state’s bail system. If a suspect is to be held in jail while awaiting trial, prosecutors are now required to prove a criminal suspect’s “dangerousness.” The reform was touted for a provision that guarantees suspects can’t be held in jail for the mere reason that they can’t afford to pay bond.

District Attorney Torrez has been vocal about the difficulty his office has encountered in proving a suspect’s “dangerousness” to district court judges. The matter was debated in front of the New Mexico Supreme Court in March 2021. Torrez said Thursday “more than 50%” of his office’s motions to detain criminal suspects in cases that involve a firearm are denied by the Second Judicial Court.

Speaking broadly about the Second Judicial District’s pre-trial release program at Thursday’s news conference, Torrez said for the last and a half, “the courts have repeatedly made the case to the public that the pretrial release system that is in place adequately protects this community from further harm.” In a September 2021 news release, Administrative Office of the Courts Director Artie Pepin said, “the evidence from research clearly shows that the great majority of people released pending trial are not committing new crimes,” pointing to a UNM study.

Torrez says the records request for GPS monitoring data is a “test” of the court’s claim. “The bottom line is, if (GPS monitoring) is working so well, why hide the information? We all have a right to know and I think we should get to the bottom of it.”

Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina appeared alongside District Attorney Torrez Thursday, supporting the effort. “The reason the Albuquerque Police Department feels so strongly that we need this data is we have the systems to be able to look and see if we see a crime trail behind these individuals moving throughout the community,” Medina said.

The lawsuit comes as the courts have faced public scrutiny for GPS monitoring programs. In September, the New Mexico Judiciary revealed its Pre-trial Services Division’s GPS monitoring program was not actively being monitored outside of normal, weekday business hours. The Administrative Office of the Courts subsequently announced changes, creating a 24/7 system alert system for felony defendants under GPS monitoring.

Previously, the state Judiciary’s GPS monitoring program was not monitored during nights, weekends and holidays. In a news release from September 20, 2021, the New Mexico Judiciary promised the additions to the monitoring system would send “high alert” warnings to “newly hired pretrial services staff” when a defendant leaves a restricted area such as a house arrest address or a treatment facility; travels to a prohibited area or known “exclusion zone;” violates curfew by one hour; when a GPS monitor has been tampered with, a battery is removed or a battery fails.

The state agency responsible for overseeing district courts, the Administrative Office of the Courts declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday. A spokesman for the AOC noted the agency is not listed as a party on the lawsuit.

The Law Offices of the New Mexico Public Defender also weighed in on the lawsuit Thursday. Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur wrote, “It shouldn’t be the law that any government entity or any person, including someone who might want to do harm, could have complete access to records of someone’s daily travel and every movement. If these pretrial records were subject to IPRA, that is what could happen. Many of the accused we are talking about here are successful on release and are ultimately never convicted of any crime. The District Attorney’s requests are far broader than is necessary to address any public safety concern.”

The Second Judicial District Court provided the following statement:

“The mission of the Second Judicial District Court is to protect the rights and liberties of its citizens, to resolve legal disputes fairly, and to ensure access to justice for all. The Court is dedicated to the highest ethical standards of judicial and personal conduct set forth by the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The Second Judicial District Court is committed to fully responding to all records requests that come in from the public and to diligently comply with the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The Court understands the importance of each public records request and takes each request seriously.

Court Administration carefully considered federal and state law in analyzing the issue of whether pretrial services records are exempt from disclosure under IPRA. Court Administration has a long-established practice based on law and national best practices pursuant to the National Association of Pretrial Service Standards. Court Administration has maintained a long-standing practice to release pretrial services’ records through a judicial order, a search warrant, and/or a stipulated protective order.

The Second Judicial District Court has actively worked over the years with its justice partners through the legislatively-formed Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The Court is dedicated to the work of the CJCC and has been collaboratively at the table identifying issues as well as meaningful solutions, and will continue to do so.

In accordance with the law and New Mexico Supreme Court Order No. 14-8500, Chief Judge Marie Ward has issued an Order recusing all judges from the Second Judicial District Court. Court Administration looks forward to an independent and impartial out-of-district judge reviewing and deciding the matter. The Court is bound by ethical standards, cannot and will not engage in public discourse, and supports the case being tried by a court of law.

Sidney Hill, Public Information Officer for New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court