In order to understand what the platform of an attorney general can and should be, we must first look at what authority and duties are assigned to the office. Many times, the attorney general is referred to as the attorney for the state and the state’s top law enforcement officer. We must first determine if these assumptions are true and then determine what the attorney general should be doing based on the law of New Mexico. Let’s start with the statutory delegation of authority and duties assigned to the attorney general:
NM Stat § 8-5-2. Duties of attorney general.
Except as otherwise provided by law, the attorney general shall:
A. prosecute and defend all causes in the supreme court and court of appeals in which the state is a party or interested;
B. prosecute and defend in any other court or tribunal all actions and proceedings, civil or criminal, in which the state may be a party or interested when, in his judgment, the interest of the state requires such action or when requested to do so by the governor;
C. prosecute and defend all actions and proceedings brought by or against any state officer or head of a state department, board or commission, or any employee of the state in his official capacity;
D. give his opinion in writing upon any question of law submitted to him by the legislature or any branch thereof, any state official, elective or appointive, or any district attorney on any subject pending before them or under their control with which they have to deal officially or with reference to their duty in office;
E. prepare drafts for contracts, bonds and other instruments of writing which may be required for the use of the state whenever requested to do so by any state officer;
F. promptly account to the state treasurer for all state funds received by him;
G. report to the governor and legislature the condition of his office, the text of all opinions rendered and a summary of business transacted of public interest, which report shall be submitted each year;
H. keep a register of all opinions rendered and all actions prosecuted and defended by him, and of all proceedings in relation thereto;
I. attend and assist in the trial of any indictment or information in any county on direction of the governor;
J. appear before local, state and federal courts and regulatory officers, agencies and bodies, to represent and to be heard on behalf of the state when, in his judgment, the public interest of the state requires such action or when requested to do so by the governor; and
K. perform all other duties required by law.
Now that we have seen what the statute says, let’s break down what it means. Basically, the Attorney General (“AG”) is required to defend the state/state actors in proceedings, prosecute when the state has an interest in the case, and make sure that an accounting is available when requested of all money spent and all proceedings or opinions that the Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) has been involved in or has rendered. As such, we can see a good definition of what it is to be the attorney for the state; however, there seems to be a real lack of information when it comes to the AG being the state’s top law enforcement officer. Generally, a law enforcement agency is defined by its jurisdiction or authority to enforce the law in a specific region. However, the OAG does not have a specifically definable criminal law enforcement jurisdiction. For example, the chief of police has a municipality, the sheriff has a county, the tribal police have the reservation, and the governor has the state police as the connective tissue for all other jurisdictions; so what geographic area is left for the OAG? The answer is that there is not a specific geographic area designated as the specific jurisdiction of state attorney general. Therefore, the question arises about what the AG can do about the criminal situation in a state. And, the answer is that the OAG and AG can do a great deal to help lower crime and prosecute offenders.
The AG has broad authority when it comes to coordinating with local and federal law enforcement to assist in the apprehension and prosecution of criminals within the state. According to scholars, this authority comes from the common law, also known as judge made law, which is law that has been passed down through the years and is the bedrock of our legal and criminal justice systems. This grant of authority is very well established in both the common law and also the federal statutes that vest the AG of a state with the authority to enforce criminal and civil law of both state and federal statutes. Not all federal statutes vest the AG with the authority to independently enforce, e.g. immigration and deportation laws; however, there are several that do allow for enforcement.
Now that we know what the AG is supposed to be doing, let’s look at what is currently happening under this AG’s watch. If you ask your local sheriff, chief of police or District Attorney what the AG has done to help them, the common answer would be “nothing”. The question is raised as to why the AG has not been coordinating with local and federal law enforcement to assist in lowering crime in NM. Instead, the current AG is suing the federal government over issues that are not relevant to our state while our state is riddled with crime from Farmington to Hobbs from Clayton to Deming. We need an AG that fulfills the job description which is to provide the backup, like the cavalry, for local law enforcement and using the OAG to protect the people of New Mexico from criminals that are actually affecting our state. This office is not a personal position to voice your own concerns and implement your own political views, but rather to enforce the law as it is written.
Hendricks does not make many promises, but, he does promise to enforce the laws as they are written without any strings attached. Hendricks is not from New Mexico originally, and, in many cases, that sounds like a bad thing; however, in this case it just means that he does not owe anyone anything. He is not indebted to any special interests, people, or companies, so he can enforce the law without worrying about a person or group calling him to implement their agenda.