- Associated Press - Thursday, January 17, 2019

ALBUQUERUQE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s chief justice defended state judges Thursday against criticism they routinely release dangerous suspects awaiting trial, as she called on lawmakers to streamline the state’s court system and fund more employee training.

In an address to the Legislature, Justice Judith Nakamura also outlined proposals she said could attract more qualified candidates to the bench.

Her remarks come as the Legislature weighs proposals aimed at streamlining the court system, which has more than 300 judges in nearly 200 courthouses.

Three-fourths of the new cases judges presided over last year stemmed from civil lawsuits, she said.

“If your only source of information about the judiciary came from news reports, you might think that our judges only handle criminal cases and routinely and nonchalantly release dangerous people into the community. Of course this is not true,” she said. “I promise you, there is not a single judge, not one, who intends to release a dangerous person into the community.”

Some judges have come under scrutiny for decisions to release defendants ahead of trial, as the state’s judiciary tries to adhere to new evidence standards for detaining suspects without bail.

Nakamura reminded lawmakers that the judiciary only recently emerged from a decade in which courts often lacked funding to pay jurors and even building rent.

With some stability, she said courts now are seeking to boost training for judges and transparency with a proposal for funding to make some case documents more easily available.

She also called for lawmakers to support extending how long newly appointed judges have to serve on the bench before having to seek election to keep their seats. In New Mexico, judges appointed to fill seats by the governor can face election within months.

“Let’s take some small steps in the right direction,” she said.

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