SANTA FE — After years of cuts, the New Mexico judicial system is aiming high for 2013.
It wants the Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez to add nine more judges to state courts at an annual cost of $3.54 million.
Arthur Pepin, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, outlined the proposal Tuesday for the legislative committee on courts and justice. Pepin, accompanied by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes, said the court system's relatively small share of taxpayer funding had declined in percentage terms.
The courts used to account for 2.72 percent of the state budget. But since the economic downtown of 2008, New Mexico courts are receiving half a point less, Pepin said.
Their overall budget is $141 million, but they want an increase to almost $160 million next year.
To improve efficiency and rein in caseloads, the judiciary proposes to add a total of seven judges to handle civil cases. Benches would be added in the Albuquerque metro area, Las Cruces, Santa Fe and the Carlsbad-Hobbs-Roswell region.
Pepin said the judiciary also wants one more magistrate for criminal court in Las Cruces and another Bernalillo Metro Court judge who would handle both civil and criminal matters.
Republican Rep. Dennis Kintigh, who lost a bid for re-election to his Roswell-area seat, said the proposal had little chance. Too many financial and unrelated judicial issues exist for such an ambitious plan to gain traction next year, he said.
Saavedra this year carried a bill to add three judges in New Mexico.
It cleared the House of Representatives 64-0 and the Senate 38-0, but Martinez vetoed it.
"My concern with this legislation is that ... the appropriation is not sufficient to fully fund these positions and the staff, supplies and furnishings necessary to adequately fulfill these duties," Martinez said in her veto message.
Pepin said an assessment of the courts since that veto found that the bench is understaffed, especially for civil cases.
Santa Fe Bureau Chief Milan Simonich can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com