SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – For the first time in four years, the New Mexico Chief Supreme Court Justice gave a State of the Judiciary address. Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon delivered a recap of the last four years in the judiciary, including a discussion of their successes, the impact of COVID-19, and criminal justice reform.

“Adapting quickly to remote proceedings made it possible for our courts to stay open. In fact, the judiciary never closed its doors during the pandemic,” Bacon says. “Over the past four years, the judiciary held over two million hearings and bench trials…Courts cleared more cases than were filed in 2022.”

Some of the programs Bacon highlighted included the court-based Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program which awarded more than $217 million federal dollars to help people in New Mexico stay housed during the pandemic. Bacon says their use of this funding earned them recognition from the White House.

Bacon highlighted programs across the state that courts are proud of, including recovery and self-help programs. She also spoke about the challenges created by ‘legal deserts’ in the state—areas where there aren’t enough attorneys.

“Twenty-one percent of our counties have five or fewer lawyers, and 33% have ten or fewer,” Bacon says. “This scarcity is a critical backdrop to the development of innovative programs and is part of partnerships with our service providers to ensure access to justice.”

Bacon also highlighted what the judicial branch is asking the legislature to fund this session and asked for robust funding for criminal justice reform. In addition to that, Bacon also called for a system to increase salaries for judges at every level across the state. She also asked for salary increases for judicial employees and to eliminate certain court fees, which are often tacked on to pay for government programs.

Bacon said in her speech if the programs are that important, they should be paid for through the general fund. Bacon also touted the success of abolishing cash bail, saying it has kept dangerous offenders off the streets. In Bernalillo County alone, it kept 3,000 defendants behind bars before their trials.