For the first time since 1996, the General Election ballot won’t contain the name Lemuel Martinez as a candidate for 13th Judicial District Attorney when that position comes up for election.

Lemuel Martinez

Ending two decades as a three-county (Sandoval, Cibola and Valencia) district attorney, Martinez, a Democrat, says he’s not going anywhere – except for some dreamed-of travel.

Beginning next year, he’ll serve the community without pay, volunteering where he sees a need.

Why not run for another term?

“No. 1, 20 years is enough time,” he said. “I believe the time is right to let someone else occupy this position, (but) I hope to remain associated somehow with the office. … I never looked at this as a lifetime career.

“The past 20 years, although it’s passed by fast, has taken a toll.”

Martinez gained the office when he defeated Pete Ross of the GOP. He beat Ross again in 2004, ran unopposed in 2008, defeated Kenneth Fladager in 2012 and won what turned out to be his final term, running unopposed, in 2016.

As district attorney, Martinez worked to prosecute violations of state criminal laws, as well as some civil cases. It’s been his goal to make the community a safer place to live and raise a family.

He said he took over a short-staffed district, and growing the budget was important. He got the budget increased from $1.7 million to $5.4 million over the first five or six years, enabling him to hire more attorneys to handle the rising caseload.

But in 2008 and 2011, the DA’s office suffered cuts, dropping its budget to $3.8 million or $3.9 million.

“Another thing I’m really proud of is the quality of the staff I’ve been able to recruit: a staff of four or five former judges, former DAs, former chief DAs — and unfortunately, a lot of my people have been appointed or elected to judgeships,” he said.

Martinez said enhancing sentences for habitual offenders was a plus.

He’s pushed through obstacles to achieve the dream he had while attending Sandia High School.

“I was the junior class and student body president,” he said. “That made me want to get involved in politics, because the bulk of the legislature were lawyers.

“That made me want to become a lawyer — eventually, I did,” he said, chuckling at the thought that he “went to law school when I was 36; I graduated at 39. I liked it.”

Teaching preceded law: He taught at Santa Fe High School, served as teacher, coach and administrator at Laguna-Acoma Junior/Senior High School, and was as a teacher at Grants High School.

“I became involved in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,” he said. “I was blown away. It has a national database on violence against children; I took what I got from that training and took it into the schools.”

Martinez never tires of cautioning children about the dangers of cyberbullying; predators trying to contact them, often online; sexting; and how “everything on the internet can’t be destroyed.”

In retirement, Martinez said, he’ll do what he can to help fight crimes by and against children, crime against elderly and mentally challenged people, and violent crime.

“Scamming seniors is so cruel – we want to protect them in the last years of their lives,” he said.

He’s made presentations at senior centers, to clubs and at schools, teaching people how not to become victims.

He’s proud of the multi-discipline task force and the pre-prosecution diversion program, in which first-time non-violent offenders on probation can do community service or donate food or clothes.

“We’ve done numerous trainings over past 20 years for our officers: on search and seizure, and, importantly, updates on how the Supreme Court and appellate courts have ruled. They need to know how a court has interpreted this statute,” Martinez said.

There have been frustrations.

“There are things that have gone on in Santa Fe the last 20 years that have hurt us,” he said. “(Such as) the removal of the death penalty. Another was the forfeiture statute, which made it more difficult to take assets of someone who gained them through illegal activity; it needs to go back to law enforcement or a general fund.”

Martinez said he was opposed to the “red-flag” bill.

“We run into all kinds of problems because the DA’s office can’t do the investigation: If we do, we violate our absolute immunity – if a weapon is confiscated, the DA would store it. That’s not our responsibility. … How can we be investigators and then prosecute the case?” he said.

He’s not a proponent of legalizing recreational marijuana, either, even though in the short run, it would reduce case numbers.

“We believe, No. 1, legislation will not stop the traffickers – they can sell it on the street cheaper than in the dispensaries,” he said. “No. 2, marijuana is like smoking and drinking — it’s a gateway drug. Nobody starts injecting heroin; they start with something ‘lower’ that leads to more use of ‘higher’ drugs: meth, heroin, cocaine…

“And, No. 3, it’s harder to prosecute (DWIs); marijuana takes 30 days to exit the system, and it’s harder to argue the degree of impairment at the time of driving.”

Regardless of who emerges as his successor, he knows the 13th Judicial District will be in good hands, and if they need his help, all they have to do is find him.

“I haven’t been to Europe or gone fishing for 20 years,” he said. “Every time I go out of town, we get a murder or high-profile case. (I’ll be) getting to know my nation  and state better. … I love art and I love history and I love music. This will allow me to do things at home. I want to continue to give back to the community – homeless, food and children are important, helping the elderly — and I’m going to help the food pantries and Storehouse West.”