WATCH/LISTEN: Bernalillo County District Attorney Primary Candidate Forum
UPDATE 6/8: In the race for the Democratic nomination for Bernalillo County District Attorney, Raul Torrez handily beat Ed Perea with 67 percent of votes. KOB-TV reports the former deputy U.S. Attorney General will face Republican Simon Kubiak in November.
Kari Brandenburg, who has served as Bernalillo County DA for 15 years, did not run for re-election this year.
For the first time in 15 years, the Bernalillo County District Attorney seat is up for grabs. Two Democrats are vying for their party's nomination in the June 7th primary. KUNM partnered with the Criminal Law Section of the New Mexico State Bar to host an election forum on May 12, 2016, at the New Mexico State Bar Center auditorium in Albuquerque.
KUNM's News Director Elaine Baumgartel moderated the discussion. Candidate Ed Perea has served as a Special Assistant Prosecutor in the 13th District. He's also served as Executive Director of the Center for Law, Policy and Public Safety. His opponent Raul Torrez has served as Assistant U.S. Attorney, Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney.
The candidates were asked questions on topics that included the relationship between the district attorney’s office and the Albuquerque Police Department; new evidence rules ordered by the state supreme court; rising numbers of people in jail or prison with untreated mental health or substance abuse issues; and whether they’d support assistant district attorneys unionizing.
Compare the candidates' positions on prosecuting police officers, ADA discretion and more in the chart below.
Perea and Torrez agreed on a range of issues, including that the district attorney’s office should not be the only agency to decide whether to prosecute police officers that have broken the rules, or injured or killed people. But the two Democrats had different ideas on how to hold police officers accountable.
“My office will immediately initiate a special prosecutor model,” said Perea. “I function under this model, I see how it works.”
But Torrez said, “I think we should go by way of preliminary hearing. The community needs the opportunity to weigh all of the evidence.”
The candidates both said they’d vote for a constitutional amendment to reform the state’s bail system and said they’d pay assistant district attorneys more.
But they disagreed about Governor Susana Martinez’s new initiative that would pay Mothers Against Drunk Driving staffers to monitor DUI trials for lenient sentences.
“It’s called community orientated policing, we create partnerships with the public,” said Perea, who supports the plan. “I arrested countless drunk drivers over the years so I recognize the importance of hitting this issue head-on.”
Torrez countered that there is already an extensive vetting process in place for judges. “I don’t agree that we should be spending tax payer money funding another organization to sit a court room and attempt to influence politically the conclusions reached by judges,” he said.
When asked about new evidence rules mandated by the state supreme court, Perea said he supports the move and that it has been a long time coming.
But Torrez said the rules, known as the Case Management Order, only work when the district attorney’s office is unable to manage their case evidence deadlines.
Both candidates described plans to restructure the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office. Perea said he would assign trial teams to specific courtrooms. Torrez said he prefers that attorneys work cases from start to finish and would create a specialized team to concentrate on violent cases.
The primary election will be held on June 7th..
The Republican candidate for Bernalillo County district attorney, Simon Kubiak, is running unopposed for his party’s nomination and didn’t take part in the Democratic primary forum. But, both Democrats and Mr. Kubiak agreed to participate in another district attorney election forum prior to the general election in November.