SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The State Supreme Court Chief Justice, Charles Daniels, says jury trials in New Mexico could soon come to a halt. This comes after Gov. Martinez vetoed $800,000 in emergency funding for the courts system.
Money is running out and without funding, jurors can’t be paid. What’s more, forcing them to serve without compensation is a violation of the constitution.
“If we don’t have the funding by March 1, we’ll have to hang a ‘no justice today’ sign on the doors and send the people who’ve shown up for their jury trials to go home. There’s nothing we can do about it,” Chief Justice Daniels said.
On Thursday, Gov. Martinez line-item vetoed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in emergency funding for the courts. The money was tacked onto the end of House Bill 1, the “Feed Bill” that funds the legislature.
In her veto memo, the governor alluded to believing the courts could be operating more efficiently.
But Chief Justice Daniels says the courts are doing all they can to save and cut back without shutting down.
“It’s extraordinary, I see the stress on the faces of my judges who testified before Senate Finance [Committee] yesterday. We haven’t faced a crisis of this magnitude in New Mexico before,” he said.
The Governor’s Office sent this statement to KRQE News 13 on Friday:
“The governor was a prosecutor for 25 years and uniquely understands the importance of our courts. She’s going to fund them, but she will not allow lawmakers to use our courts as a political prop in order to hide the fact that they increased their budget.”
In a statement sent Thursday immediately after the veto, the governor said she will make sure the courts system is funded by appealing to the Board of Finance.
Chief Justice Daniels says he’s more than willing to work with the governor and legislators to come up with a solution, but it needs to happen quick. The clock is running out.
If the funding doesn’t come in time and trials are delayed, they could ultimately be dismissed because, again, the constitution is being violated — the right to a speedy trial.
Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, blasted the Governor, calling her veto of the emergency funding “reckless” and “irresponsible.