NM Supreme Court strikes down some changes to district attorney, judicial elections

Albuquerque News

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Supreme Court has deemed certain parts of a law updating the state’s election code as unconstitutional.

In a series of court orders published Monday, the New Mexico Supreme Court struck a series of provisions in House Bill 407 that would have changed election years for district attorneys, judges and several county officials.

The bill, known as the “Election Law 50-year tune-up,” was passed by the New Mexico Legislature and signed by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham during the 2019 session.

However, shortly after it took effect, eight state district attorneys filed suit against the Secretary of State, taking issue with a provision that moved all DA elections to 2022, when the governor gets elected.

As a result of the change, the law would have handed eight district attorneys a special, one-time, six-year term.

Otero County District Attorney John Sugg fought the change, noting the state constitution calls for DA’s to only serve four-year terms.

Several of those DA’s feared any conviction their offices won their fifth and sixth years in office would be thrown out over a constitutional challenge.

“None of us want to work hard to obtain justice, get a conviction just… to have it vacated because our election terms got changed and we weren’t properly in office and so that’s why the eight of us joined together,” said John Sugg, the 12th Judicial District Attorney.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling means no term limits have changed and the eight DA’s that sued will go up for election in 2020, as originally planned.

One of the lawmakers behind the bill told KRQE News 13 on Monday that the changes to the DA’s term limits were simply a mistake. Any future changes to election years would likely have to come through a constitutional amendment.

The state Supreme Court also struck other changes from the law, including an attempt to realign election years for magistrate judges and county officials in southeast New Mexico, and an effort to stagger election years for district court judges statewide.

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