SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court pushed back Monday against a lawsuit that seeks to block new rules governing pre-trial release of defendants, urging a federal court to sanction attorneys who brought the case on behalf of bail bondsmen.
Proponents of the new rules say they help ensure defendants are not kept in jail only because they cannot afford bail provisions, while pilot programs are providing new analytical tools to gauge whether defendants pose a flight risk.
Bail bond companies have filed a lawsuit in federal district court that defends the lengthy tradition of bail bonds as a “right to freedom before conviction,” with visceral warnings about public safety under new release rules that went into effect in July.
Similar bail bond reforms in New Jersey also are being challenged in federal court, as several states contemplate bail reforms in efforts to reduce the numbers of nonviolent suspects unnecessarily awaiting trial in jail.
In its move Monday, the New Mexico Supreme Court accused the bail bond industry and allied lawmakers of knowingly pursuing groundless legal claims for “propagandistic objectives.”
It asked for sanctions against attorneys for the plaintiffs that could include a fine, reprimand or the repayment of legal expenses.
“The lawsuit is not only frivolous but has been pursued for improper motives — namely to achieve political and public relations goals in opposition to lawful bail reforms,” said the motion, filed on behalf of the state Supreme Court and other judicial officials by the state attorney general.
A spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office, James Hallinan, indicated the position was taken on behalf of a client and does “not necessarily constitute an endorsement by the attorney general.”
Bail Bond Association President Gerald Madrid described the call for sanctions as bullying.
“It’s a tactic on their part just to try and strong-arm us or bully us and shut us down, and not have our day in court,” he said.
New Mexico voters approved a constitutional amendment in November allowing judges to deny bail to defendants considered extremely dangerous. The amendment also allows judges to grant pretrial release to those who are not considered a threat but remain in jail because they can’t afford bail.
Madrid said detailed rules under the amendment effectively cut out financially secured bonds from the list of tools for ensuring defendants appear in court.
A federal judge rebuffed those claims earlier this month, noting that the state of New Mexico does not forbid commercial bail when courts deem it necessary. Judge Robert Junell said the lawsuit was unlikely to succeed.