District Attorney Janetta Hicks is seeking re-election to her position in the 5th Judicial District Court. The district encompasses Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties. Hicks is being challenged by Janet Ellis, who served as a prosecutor under former District Attorney Tom Rutledge, in the Republican primary.
“My passion is to be a prosecutor. I want to continue to represent this district in that capacity,” Hicks said.
Hicks’ parents attribute her interest in law to Perry Mason, which she frequently watched while growing up. At a young age, Hicks said, she aspired to be “one of those lawyers who say, ‘I object.’”
Hicks’ office handles on average 5,000 cases annually. To combat a 12.5 [auth] percent cut to her office’s operating budget and a 33 percent increase in cases, Hicks has implemented several innovations, most notably establishing the first paperless prosecutors office in the state. Other cost-saving measures include the creation of a website to provide immediate disclosure to the defense and automatically producing all paperwork through a merging through database, standardized forms and the like. The budget for the current fiscal year is $4,074,000.
The office, encompassing all three counties, has a total of 20 attorneys. “Our budget is 96 percent personnel. Any cut has a big impact,” Hicks said. Individually, the attorneys handle on average 300 cases per year and have seen roughly a one-third increase in their courseload, since Hicks first took office.
“We spend a lot of late hours, a lot of overtime, and learn to be more efficient and more effective,” she said.
Hicks said her office has aggressively pursued grants during these lean budgetary times. During her tenure, the office has received almost $1 million in grant funding. A $142,000 High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Grant has helped to fund a unique pilot project. Hicks’ office has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico Ken Gonzales to use the funding to hire another lawyer, who acts dually as a special assistant U.S. attorney and as an assistant district attorney. The lawyer spends half of his time handling federal cases and the other half on state cases.
“(The) federal cases are our cases that he’s accepted for federal prosecution. That has made cases in southeastern New Mexico available for federal prosecution much easier, gun cases and drug cases,” Hicks said. “We’ve taken a lot of those cases and moved them from the state system to the federal system through this program.”
Other programs implemented under her tenure include Offender Watch, the first district-wide sex offender notification database in the nation, through a partnership with the sheriff’s departments, the New Mexico Statewide Automated Victim Information Notification program and the Check Enforcement program, which collects worthless checks that have been written to businesses. Through the latter program, the office has collected over a quarter million dollars in restitution fees.
When not working, Hicks enjoys time with her two great danes and boxer.