Public defender standoff reaches Supreme Court

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A state prosecutor is asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to order public defense attorneys back to work on behalf of indigent defendants at courts in Lea County.

District Attorney Dianna Luce said Wednesday she has submitted an emergency petition that urges the Supreme Court to intervene in cases where legal representation was declined or withdrawn by the Law Offices of the Public Defender.

Chief Public Defender Ben Baur says that state budget restrictions mean his office can no longer effectively provide counsel to people in Lea County who cannot afford an attorney. A Lea County District Judge has found Bauer in contempt.

Luce says Lea County is experiencing a breakdown in the judicial process and that public defenders do not have the authority to decline representation to indigent criminal defendants.

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