- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A budget crisis is preventing contract public defenders from being provided for indigent defendants who aren’t jailed, an official said.

Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado recently sent a letter to chief judges statewide explaining the impact of the crisis on his office, the Albuquerque Journal reported (https://goo.gl/1ooE2t ) Tuesday.

Contract defenders typically are hired when there is more than one defendant in a case, or in rural areas such as Lincoln or Cibola counties. Those are places where the Law Office of the Public Defender doesn’t have staff.

The New Mexico Public Defender Commission has a special meeting on Wednesday in Albuquerque to discuss the issue.

“The commission is considering all options, including litigation, but no decisions have been made about how to proceed,” commission Chairman Michael Stout said. “We do know we have inadequate funding, and we have to address it in some form or another.”

The defender office represents anyone charged with DWI who cannot afford a lawyer, as well as alleged crimes up to and including murder. In fiscal 2014, more than 70,000 individuals charged with crimes were provided attorneys by the office, including contract counsel.

Alvarado, in the letter to the courts, said he took the step “with extreme regret” but was forced to cut back on representation because of the governor’s line-item veto of a supplemental $1.3 million appropriation for the balance of the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The office has a projected deficit of $1.75 million. With savings from refusing to represent eligible defendants who aren’t in custody, the projected deficit can be reduced to about $900,000.

The veto message by Gov. Susana Martinez complained about a “rapid rate of overspending at the Public Defender Department” and said she had nevertheless supported the original appropriation in the House budget to cover agency shortfalls for this fiscal year.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, https://www.abqjournal.com

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