Two new assistant district attorneys in Valencia County are determined to make sure justice will be served.
Franziska Ortega and Elizabeth Garcia are the two newest prosecutors in the 13th Judicial District. They both say they are thrilled to be part of a team that serves the public.
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez said he’s very proud to have Ortega and Garcia in his office.
“We’re always looking for great talent here in the 13th Judicial District, and it’s often tough to get because people always seem to focus on going to Albuquerque,” he said. “In this particular case, I feel very fortunate that we’ve obtained two high-powered and well-educated attorneys to prosecute here in Valencia County.”
Garcia, who was born and raised in Valencia County, was hired on June 1 after working at the Modrall law firm in Albuquerque. After graduating from the Washington Lee School of Law in Lexington, Va., Garcia was recruited by the Albuquerque law firm, which had learned she was in the top 3 percent of her graduating class.
Garcia specialized in education and in employment law while at the Modrall firm.
“We’re fortunate to have her,” Martinez said. “She is a very bright and talented attorney.”
Ortega, a native of Hunington Beach, Calif., joined the district attorney’s office in early June after graduating from the University of New Mexico law school in December.
“She comes to us well-qualified and has a great personality,” Martinez said. “She’s currently developing her skills as a prosecutor at the magistrate court level. We look to her for future great things in the 13th Judicial District, as she grows and progresses as an attorney. Eventual-ly, she’ll take over a felony case load.”
Garcia said that, although she’s experienced what it’s like to defend civil law cases, her fascination with criminal law helped her to decide the path she now feels is best for her.
“I’ve always been interested in criminal law, and I had an interest in serving the community I grew up in,” Garcia said. “It’s been interesting and different. I was looking forward to coming to Valencia County because of the diverse caseload.
“The cases that we work on are very diverse, and it’s a very high-paced environment. I really enjoy that.”
Ortega agrees, saying that criminal law was always an option she wanted to explore.
“Criminal law was always on the map for me,” Ortega said. “I always had it on my mind, and, now that I’ve made that decision, it has turned out to be the right one.”
Both Garcia and Ortega have always wanted to practice law and said the 13th Judicial District is a great place to learn and practice and, at the same time, make a difference.
“The one thing that this office has to offer is that we’re all in the courtroom and we get to be an advocate for the community,” Garcia said. “I think you have a special duty, as a prosecutor, to represent the public, and I don’t know if I was really aware of the fiduciary duty before I came here.”
As a new prosecutor, Ortega says her expectations of the job were exceeded soon after she was hired. With a lot of time in the courtroom and having the opportunity to get trial experience, Ortega says she’s excited to continue her career with this office.
“The majority of it is how this specific office functions,” she said.
“We have a great group of people, and the attitudes of the people we work with are just fantastic. We have a great chemistry. I find myself driving to work feeling giddy and excited.”
After a few short months on the job, both Garcia and Ortega have an enormous number of cases piled on their desks. They both have more than 200 open cases to prosecute.
Martinez said that, as the population continues to grow, crime has also risen in Valencia County. The year before Martinez was elected, the district attorney’s office handled 1,555 cases. Last year, prosecutors handled 1,777 cases compared to 1,558 cases in the first six and a half months of this year.
Ortega contends that there’s no time to worry about the number of cases she and her colleagues have to prosecute.
“You just have to pick up your files and get out the door,” she said. “That’s what it comes down to. Just go, go, go.”
“It’s an awesome responsibility. Everything you do affects everyone’s lives,” Garcia said. “From the defendants to the victims to the public.”