A new approach to drunken drivers is needed, since New Mexico — including Las Vegas — isn’t progressing nearly fast enough in getting them off our roadways. So we’re glad to see local judges taking a different tack, especially when it comes to the high-risk DWIs that threaten the public’s safety.
We’re talking about the initiative to take on, in Magistrate Judge Philip Romero’s words, “one person at a time.” Romero’s is the fifth magistrate court in the state to establish a DWI court — the San Miguel DWI Sobriety Court, an after-hours court targeting repeat adults who are about to become felony offenders. The court is scheduled to start in May.
The idea is to do more than simply get drunken drivers off the street and punish them for their offenses. Sanctions will remain in place, but offenders who are diverted into the program must follow some strict standards of rehabilitation. The program is designed to focus on third-time offenders — one more DWI and they hit felony status — with an integrated program of treatment, sobriety and employment.
The success of this program rests largely in the hands of the new court’s coordinator, Darlene Romo-Baca, who will have to navigate success through the demands of law enforcement, treatment programs and defense attorneys. She will also have to steer clear of any conflicts of interest of her own, since she’s married to prominent defense attorney, Gerald Baca. In order to establish the “collaborative effort” that’s necessary for the program’s success, she must belay any perception of favoritism. We’re hopeful that she can do it.
That said, Romo-Baca is talking tough about the program, as well she should: DWI offenders, she said, “will have to do the mandatory minimums and everything required under statute.” Then, if they are accepted into the program, “there will be intense supervision, drug treatment and screening, and educational opportunities.” They will have to meet with her on a daily basis and go before the judge once a week, she added. “We will follow them pretty much 24/7,” she said.
Sounds like a rigorous program, as well it should be. But for someone seeking to change their behavior and re-enter society in a productive, non-threatening way, this may be exactly how to do it. We wish the best for this program, and hope it will lead to a whole new approach to successfully tackling this serious public safety issue.