by Bill Knowles
COLFAX, TAOS, AND UNION COUNTIES — Eighth Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos will run for re-election in 2016, in the face of a ruling of misconduct against him by the State of New Mexico Supreme Court Disciplinary Board. Gallegos has already served 16 years as District Attorney in the 8th Judicial District and will close out his career at 20 years if he wins the re-election bid.
Gallegos characterizes his time in the office as one of success with a 98% conviction rate in homicide cases, and a 52 percent conviction rate for all other cases in 2014, the last full accounting period with complete statistics. Of the 460 cases tried in 2014, 240 were won by Gallegos’ office while the remaining 48% or 220, were dismissed.
In a public meeting held in Raton earlier this year, Gallegos explained why so many cases were dismissed and noted many of them have been refiled. He said often times, cases were dismissed because an attorney failed to show, or an officer failed to show up, and even the victims themselves, decided not to show up for court. “Another reason that is becoming more prevalent for dismissal is mental illness,” he said.
However, Gallegos has been coming under fire from the State of New Mexico Supreme Court Disciplinary Board.
The board alleges Gallegos and his then-deputy district attorney Emilio Chávez violated numerous rules in issuing subpoenas without the approval of a judge or grand jury. The board censured Gallegos, in what he said during a phone interview with the World Journal, was an experiment. The board didn’t find any malicious intent embodied in the charges but did find that there was misconduct.
Gallegos hoped since the ruling he would be able to move on and secure re-election to the job of District Attorney.
“I have been on the cutting edge of going paperless in my offices. This has allowed us to stay in budget,” Gallegos said. “In New Mexico funding for the District Attorney’s offices is part of the State’s general fund, unlike Colorado where funding for the DA’s offices comes from the counties.”
“My opponents say that the 8th District needs changes but they don’t articulate why they are the agents of change. One of the things that need change is the recruitment of prosecutors from newly minted lawyers coming out of law school. They are in debt around $100,000 and I can only pay them $50,000 to $60,000 annually. A good change would be to get the state to help with their school debt if they would sign on for five years to serve in rural communities. If I had the purse strings I would pay $80,000 to $100,000 to get attorneys here,” Gallegos said.
With the New Mexico primary coming up on June 7, Gallegos is facing at least one challenger, Paul Sanchez. Sanchez is a Taos High School graduate and former New Mexico State Police lieutenant who currently works for the City of Roswell. He formerly served under Gallegos as Deputy Eighth Judicial District Attorney in Clayton and Raton.
No Republican ran against Gallegos during his last campaign for re-election, in 2012, but he faced a challenger in the Democratic Party primary that year.
Gallegos won with 4,722 votes, soundly defeating Sarah Montoya, who won 3,573 votes.
While the race was not close in Taos County, Medina narrowly defeated Gallegos in Union County.
And the race was closer in Colfax County, where Gallegos won 882 votes and Medina won 745.
As in 2012, the primary election will likely decide the entire race in the heavily Democratic district.