ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — After winning the November election, Raúl Torrez will soon take over as New Mexico’s Attorney General. But who takes over his spot as the lead prosecutor for crime in Albuquerque and the state’s most populous county?
The Bernalillo County district attorney is broadly responsible for taking criminals to court and putting them behind bars. The district attorney sits across the courtroom from the states public defenders and private attorneys who defend those accused of crimes ranging from relatively light offenses to murders. They also help defend the State of New Mexico in civil cases.
District attorneys are generally elected to four-year terms. Raúl Torrez became Bernalillo County’s district attorney in January 2017 and served his first four-year term before being re-elected in 2020.
There’s still two more years left before the next election for Bernalillo County’s district attorney. So, what happens when Torrez is sworn in as Attorney General in January 2023?
The New Mexico Constitution requires the Governor to appoint a lawyer to fill that empty seat. They will serve until the next general election. In this case, that’s 2024.
KRQE News 13 reached out to the Governor’s Office to learn how Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham will approach the appointment. Nora Sackett, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, says Lujan Grisham will aim to appoint someone who’s “focused on community safety.”
“The governor will be looking to appoint someone who shares her priority of tackling crime through smart and proven methods that make New Mexico communities safer,” Sackett said in an email.
KRQE News 13 also reached out to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office to learn if they are doing anything to ease the transition. Lauren Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the office, says they’ve started the discussion on how the office will transition but aren’t yet ready to release more info.
Whoever takes over as the lead prosecutor for the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office will be thrust into the center of the local debate over Albuquerque crime. While in the role, Torrez spoke publicly against the regions current pre-trial detention practices, writing in a 2022 memo that they “unfairly skew detention hearings toward release and fail to give judges an accurate picture of dangerousness.” Some state analysts, however, have pointed to what they call an “accountability gap” among police and prosecutors as a key explanation for Albuquerque’s crime.