PERALTA-Peralta Municipal Judge Tracy Aragon presented a plan requesting additional resources from the town council to expand services offered by the Peralta court system, including night court, a full-time employee and expanded hours.
“When I was elected to the bench, I inherited a court system that had no structure of any kind,” Aragon said. “I was forced to build a court system from ground zero with minimal funding, minimal staff, minimal operating hours and no experience as a judge.
“I refuse to leave my (successor) a court system that is not operating at the highest level.”
The current court is open for only 24 hours a week and two court days every month. The Peralta Municipal Court has two part-time employees — a court clerk and an assistant clerk.
With more resources, Aragon proposes to expand the court’s hours of operations to 45 hours a week with one full-time administrative assistant. He also proposed adding two days of night court every month on the third and fourth Wednesday in addition to the two already designated court days.
Aragon said in his experience, more people have shown up for their court dates when having the option to attend outside of the traditional working hours.
He said in the proposal the Peralta court has been a “victim of its own design,” since, at its current size, it cannot keep up with the growing demand of services in light of a growing local police force and code enforcement.
“While the court system has not requested a budget increase in four years, the court budget has actually decreased to support increases in law enforcement,” Aragon said. “It is now imperative that court resources are increased to provide excellent service to the town.”
According to a report provided by Aragon to the councilors, Peralta courts currently has more than $18,000 in outstanding fines with due dates beginning in May 2017 and more than 300 open cases.
Aragon said with more resources, they would be able to follow up on collections for overdue fines, and issue and cancel warrants in a more timely manner. With more court days including night court, Aragon said he expects more people to show up for their court dates.
He said it costs the town $95 per day to keep someone in jail, which wasn’t worth the cost if a warrant for their arrest was issued after they failed to pay a $70 fine, for example.
“We would much rather contact them, pay their fine, that way they don’t have to be thrown in jail and we don’t have to pay for it,” Aragon said.
The council has yet to consider the expansion for the Peralta Municipal Courts system or allot them an increased budget.
Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history.