San Juan County DA Rick Tedrow talks about his work this legislative session

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — Local lawmakers who are attempting to pass laws that combat synthetic marijuana, drunken driving and criminal voyeurism during the current legislative session have a powerful ally in San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow.

Tedrow, 44, is the current president of the New Mexico District Attorneys Association and, as such, represents the association during the legislative session, testifying before committees and advocating for bills supported by the association.

He also spends his time during the session in Santa Fe lobbying state lawmakers for an increased budget for his office.

Tedrow was appointed president of the association in June 2012 and was elected in January 2013. He has served as San Juan County's district attorney since 2008.

The Daily Times reached out to Tedrow to discuss his work in Santa Fe and his thoughts on bills being proposed in the current session. What follows is a transcript of that email conversation, which has been lightly edited for style and grammar.

DT >> Could you explain what your responsibilities are as president of the New Mexico District Attorney's Association?

TEDROW >> ... NMDAA is an association of all elected and appointed District Attorneys in New Mexico which consists of 14 elected district attorneys. I am responsible for establishing agendas and running meetings for the association. I am responsible for overseeing the daily operations of the Administrative of District Attorneys (AODA), which is the supportive agency to all District Attorneys at a state wide level. I serve as the liaison for the district attorneys between other state agencies, federal agencies, the executive branch, the judicial branch and the legislative branch. As president, I serve as the lead representative of our association during the legislative session.

DT >> During the legislative session, how much time in an average week do you spend in Santa Fe working with lawmakers?

TEDROW >> In the beginning periods of the session, I average four to five days in Santa Fe. During the last two weeks of the session, it's seven days a week in Santa Fe. Even during the periods I am home, the emails and phone is going 24/7.

DT >> In what ways do your activities in Santa Fe help your constituents in San Juan County?

TEDROW >> By taking a larger role at the state level, it assists San Juan county first and foremost by assuring our voices and concerns are heard. Day-to-day focus on [the] budget ensures that necessary resources are allocated to our community for prosecution. Serving in legislative committees and on the floor of the Legislature as an expert witness in certain criminal law bills provides another avenue for San Juan County to be represented in the legislative process. Being able to weigh in on criminal bills and support, oppose or assist in amending bills provides San Juan County and the State of New Mexico with perspectives of prosecutors that may have been overlooked.

DT >> What bills are you supporting in the current legislative session?

TEDROW >> The NMDAA is supporting numerous bills in the House and Senate this session. Personally, I am actively supporting or serving as an expert on DWI enhancement bills, increase to vehicular homicide sentencing bills, increases to penalties and sentences of defendants in DWI vehicular homicide bills, changes to domestic violence bills, increases in child abuse bills, and spice/drug DWI issues that routinely arise in our county.

DT >> What has been the response in Santa Fe to Rep. Rod Montoya's bill expanding penalties for drunken driving? What about his bill that targets the sale of synthetic marijuana?

TEDROW >> Representative Montoya took a very bold and refreshing stance on DWI, especially in circumstances of repeat DWI offenders. I am pleased to stay that I stood with him in this effort. However, any bill that is brought before the legislative body in Santa Fe that increases penalties in the criminal judicial system receives strong scrutiny both in political policy and ideology, as well as what fiscal impact a bill will have on the limited budgetary resources for all state agencies. Further, there are many beliefs among legislators on how to deal with DWI in New Mexico. To many, rehabilitative measures outweigh incarceration and vice versa. Representative Montoya's bill has the support of the district attorneys and law enforcement agencies, and is moving through the House committee process.

Representative Montoya's bill to attack the sellers of bath salts and synthetic marijuana is another bold and fresh avenue to address the problems facing us in San Juan County. These bath salts and synthetic drugs are falsely representing [their] true and intended uses, and Representative Montoya is taking a civil action approach to allow lawsuits to be filed by the attorney general or private attorneys under the New Mexico Unfair Trade Practices Act. This approach, while not criminalizing possession or distribution, provides a remedial avenue to those impacted by there destructive consequences and will allow lawsuits for monetary damages against those who are selling these synthetic drugs. Representative Montoya's bill is moving through the legislative process well, and I hope it makes its way through to completion.

DT >> According to the fiscal impact report, Rep. Rod Montoya's bill expanding penalties for drunken driving would also substantially increase the caseload of local prosecutors and incarceration costs for jails and prisons. From your perspective, do the benefits outweigh the costs?

TEDROW >> Absolutely, expansion of penalties for repeat drunk drivers is what Representative Montoya's bill addresses. For the safety of our community, it is imperative that we be able to address and remove these repeat offenders from the streets.

DT >> Not including bills being sponsored by local legislators, are there any crime bills being considered in the current session that will have a significant impact on San Juan County?

TEDROW >> That is a hard question to give a simple answer. NMDAA is watching 208 bills this session that directly or indirectly impact prosecution statewide. These bills range from increases or decreases in criminal penalties, changes to definitions of crimes, and changes to the elements necessary to convict a person of a crime. For example, this past summer, the courts ruled that our current statute only allows prosecutors to charge one count of possession of child pornography regardless of the amount of images in the offender's possession. In an effort to rectify this ruling, two bills (House Bill 251 and House Bill 440) were proposed to make each individual image a separate count. To date, House Bill 440 has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting hearings in Senate Committee hearings.

DT >> You are also in Santa Fe to discuss the budget of the Eleventh Judicial District Attorney's Office, Division One. Does your office currently have the resources it needs to adequately prosecute cases? If not, how much of a budget increase are you requesting?

TEDROW >> The attorneys and staff at the District Attorney's Office work hard and do the best they can for our community. While budgetary resources are limited, it is still the philosophy and belief of the staff that we have a job to do and that we will get the job done. The economic downturn of the past six years has taken its toll on our budget. With limited monies available, the Legislature and governor have done what they can to assist in rebuilding the budget to where it needs to be, but until our economy changes, our legislators are forced to work with all agencies with limited funds available. I have asked for additional funding to attempt to get back to a budget comparable to that of seven years ago and have received some additional money. However, this will continue to be a slow rebuild.

DT >> Have you lost any other funding sources that require an increase in the state's budget allocation?

TEDROW >> Recently, we lost federal funding in the form of Southwest Border Funding monies from the Department of Justice. This loss was nationwide. We have been talking to our federal legislators in New Mexico and our surrounding states in an effort to revive this funding. This funding provided our office with supplemental funding that employed several employees in our office. The loss of this funding severely hampers our ability to assist in prosecution of the big-time drug dealers. However, I will use general fund monies to assure that our office can continue to prosecute those moving large amounts of drugs through our community.

DT >> How long will you be working in Santa Fe?

TEDROW >> I will be home at 3:30 p.m. on March 21, 2015. The session ends at noon on the 21st. It will take me three and one half hours to drive home. I am very ready to see my wife and kids. Also, I am ready to watch baseball games in the basin.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.