By Julian Dendinger / Valencia County News-Bulletin assistant editor
It was a nail-biter of a race, but the election of a new 13th Judicial District Attorney has been completed.
When voting stopped Nov. 3, Republican Joshua Jimenez was ahead of Democrat Barbara Romo by 1,041 votes. The gap narrowed to 269 votes as provisional ballots and overseas votes were tallied, and by Nov. 10, the race had shifted in favor of Romo, ahead by only 59 votes.
Because the totals were within a half a percentage point, the race was subject to an automatic recount under state law. The three counties in the 13th Judicial District — Valencia, Cibola and Sandoval — canvassed the results two weeks after the election, and Romo retained her lead by 136 votes.
The three counties recounted the DA’s race Dec. 1-3, and the results were canvassed and certified by the state Thursday.
At the end of the day, Romo won the seat by 132 votes.
While she won’t be sworn in until Jan. 1, Romo said she has already begun familiarizing herself with the district’s budget, reviewing what money has already been encumbered and what contracts are outstanding.
When most local and state elected officials begin their terms in January, they take office in the middle of an agency’s fiscal year, with a budget set six months prior by their predecessor.
Romo said she is also preparing for the state legislative session, as well as meeting with staff in the district’s three offices during COVID-19 restrictions.
The DA’s office for the 13th Judicial District is actually three offices, one in each county, where Romo wants to see more consistency in day-to-day practices and prosecution.
“I also want the DA’s office, as a whole, to be more involved and part of the community by getting involved in community activities, volunteering,” she said. “I know Mr. (Lemuel) Martinez (the outgoing district attorney) did a lot of outreach with schools, and I want to continue that. I want this office to be seen as a value to the community, not just something that puts bad guys in jail.”
Romo, who is the chief deputy district attorney, said there have been positions in the office left vacant for at least two years due to budget constraints. After conversations with other DAs around the state and attending a virtual Legislative Finance Committee briefing, Romo said realistically, the district will be lucky to keep what it has in terms of funding.
“There’s not going to be any increases, and rightly so. I think the focus is going to be on taking care of small businesses,” she said. “We will find ways to utilize resources we already have, including personnel, and finding more diversion programs to take the pressure off of prosecutors.”
She added the district isn’t alone in its financial challenges, saying every DA’s office is going to be in the same position.
“We need to effectively prosecute all crimes. I don’t ever want to tell a victim we don’t have the manpower to look at their case,” Romo said.
Establishing closer cooperation with community leaders across the district, as well as asking for more input and involvement from citizens, is another goal.
“I think sometimes citizens have ideas that those of us in the profession every day don’t think of things outside of the box,” she said. “In this state, one thing we really need to concentrate on is getting to kids early so they don’t fall into the cycle or mentality that they don’t need high school, that it’s easier to sell drugs or shoplift.
“We have to give kids the opportunity and foresight that you can do something better than maybe your friends or family did. We have to instill a sense in them of, ‘Of course I’m going to be a productive member of society. Why wouldn’t I?’ So much a part of crime is people cycling in and out, and that takes up a lot of resources of all of the criminal justice system.”
Cutting back on employee turnover is also a priority for Romo, who noted constant training of new employees has not only a financial impact, but also affects the consistency of the office and morale.
“We have a lot to do. I know Mr. Martinez was not hands-on, but I will be more so. You are going to see me in the courtroom — a lot,” Romo said. “I am going to be out there doing things I will expect our prosecutors to do. I’m not going to ask them to do things I won’t.”