Tuesday, January 8, 2013

AG Joined in Fight Against Double Dipping/Human Trafficking

The Attorney General’s Office is pleased to hear about proposed legislation to end the practice of “double dipping” for expenses by New Mexico legislators and encouraged to see that the City of Albuquerque’s is promising action against human trafficking.  The AGO has been advocating for both ideas for some time and we welcome the support now being shown by State Representative Nate Gentry and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.

When we found that no laws had been violated in our investigation into former State Representative Ray Begaye’s travel reimbursements for various trips taken by him involving Legislative business, simply put---it was because there are currently no laws that expressly prohibit the practice. AG King believes that is unacceptable and in a letter urged the state Legislative Council to address the problem. Our letter stated:

“We strongly recommend Legislative Council adopt and your office implement a new explicit policy regarding reimbursement for Legislators when conducting officially sanctioned Legislative business trips.  We suggest they be limited to receiving expense reimbursement from only a single entity for any particular trip.  A Legislator should choose to accept only per diem, mileage, and expenses from the State or solely from an outside source.  The supplementation or duplication of public funds reimbursement from private organizations should not be allowed due to the appearance of  “double-dipping”.”

Representative Gentry has announced he plans to tackle the problem through legislation.  We are enthusiastic that our recommendation has begun the process of addressing the issue.

And Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has reportedly begun an initiative to step up the city’s battle against human trafficking.  Again, we applaud the city’s efforts as we continue our own statewide anti-human trafficking actions. After working to get a state law on the books making human trafficking a felony in New Mexico, AG King has been following up with many training sessions across the state to familiarize the public, prosecutors, and law enforcement with all aspects of combatting what is termed as “modern day slavery.”  In 2008 the Attorney General was summoned to Geneva, Switzerland by the United Nations Committee on Rights of the Child as part of a U.S. delegation that would address issues such as trafficking of children and child pornography. The CRC had heard of AG King’s successful efforts to get a new state law passed that makes human trafficking a felony.  Committee members were also aware of the AGO’s collaboration with the Mexican state of Chihuahua to aggressively combat the sale of children and adults in the black market.  AG King has recently been asked to update the CRC on what New Mexico has done since then to combat human trafficking.

Incidentally, January is designated as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

AG King on Vigil-Giron Case Delays

Attorney General Gary King responds to criticisms involving delays and the dismissal of the criminal case against former Secretary of State Vigil-Giron:

A recent newspaper editorial opined about the delays in the corruption trial of Rebecca Vigil-Giron which resulted in dismissal of the case against her on "speedy trial" grounds.  The editorial myopically blames the AG for this disappointing outcome.

Here is the analysis the newspaper missed:  First, the editorial notes that eight judges have presided over this case. It failed to note that three of those assigned judges refused to hear the case.  Two of the judges were excused by the Defendants (including Ms. Vigil-Giron, who excused Judge Whitaker).  The AG was responsible for excusing one judge, which resulted in a delay of only six days.  Judge Murdoch, the judge who presided for the longest period, had to resign from office.  This resignation had a significant negative impact on the case.  The trial was delayed from July until October, 2011 while the process waited for Governor Martinez to appoint a new judge to the position. That judge was required to recuse himself because of a prior relationship with one of the defense attorneys.  More delay, none caused by the AG, nor was it preventable by the AG.  

Second, the editorial points out delays were caused by the excessive number of pre-trial motions filed by the defense.  The editorial failed to note that Judge Murdoch did not to set a hearing on the most dispositive of those motions until March, 2011, a period of 18 months after the motions were filed (nearly half of the entire delay in the case).  We requested, and got two trial dates (7/2010 and 1/2011), both of which were cancelled at the co-defendants' requests and over our objections. The AG’s office was fully prepared to try the case on these dates.  Our office continues in the contention that there is sufficient evidence against Ms. Vigil-Giron that if such evidence were submitted to a jury of her peers it would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed the crimes that were charged.

Third, the editorial notes with apparent derision that "The New Mexico Attorney General's Office fought to remain as prosecutor.”  Darn tootin' we did!  The failure in analysis here is the crux of the editorial board’s refusal to analyze or acknowledge the unique nature of all AG offices when they prosecute on behalf of the state.  It is not unusual nor improper for an AG's office to give civil advice to an agency through its Civil Division and also have the capacity to prosecute wrongdoing by a public official from the same agency.  A prosecutor has a duty not to cut and run just because the defense raises a procedural question as a trial tactic.  It should be made clear that the trial judge made specific findings that there was no bias or political motive by the AG that led to the indictments and trial of Ms. Vigil-Giron and her three co-defendants.  Still, the judge ordered that the trial be transferred to an independent prosecutor because of a "shadow" remaining over this hotly contested issue.  We could have appealed the decision, however, it would have added 1-2 years to the progress of the trial.  Unfortunately, further delay occurred because the law in New Mexico does not have any direct method for the AG to hire an independent prosecutor and the defendants objected to my office having anything to do with hiring one.  In any event, the case was at that time successfully transferred to the Second District Attorney who retained an independent prosecutor.

Even though detractors of the Attorney General’s Office have capitalized on uninformed criticism and innuendo to place the responsibility for all the delay in this case on the AG, it is clear that there were numerous factors that led to the delays.  If we intend to improve the outcomes in corruption cases it is important to first be honest with ourselves and the public so we can address the root causes that result in delay that may keep the defendant and the people of the state from having their “day in court.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kudos for Anti-Human Trafficking Policies

The Albuquerque City Council should be congratulated for its efforts this week to address human trafficking and other crimes at the city's strip clubs.  Attorney General King has long made anti-human trafficking efforts a hallmark of his administration...the city's action can only assist in the campaign against what is aptly referred to as Modern Day Slavery.  This is a positive step in the right direction and hopefully the city will expand this type of vigilance with other businesses and industries that could potentially be involved in human trafficking.


Friday, October 12, 2012

AG Takes Anti-Voter Suppression Steps

Recent allegations of voter suppression tactics in the Albuquerque area prompted Attorney General King to initiate an investigation this week.  The AG is committed to fair elections in our state and is very concerned about complaints that there are insidious attempts being made to turn away legitimate voters from election polling places in November.  AG King was copied on a letter (below) this week to Secretary of State Dianna Duran from a coalition of non-partisan organizations that says, “We are concerned that without corrective action on your part this and other incorrect information may result in disruption, delay and potentially disenfranchisement on Election Day.”  The letter goes on to request that the Secretary investigate and take steps to correct misinformation provided by recent voter “challenger training” by a Sandoval County GOP operative. In an effort to address the misinformation recently disseminated about New Mexico voting laws, Attorney General Gary King today is publishing certain excerpts of law concerning voter identification and provisional voting.  Interestingly, despite a call from the AG for the Governor and Secretary of State to repudiate voter suppression attempts, both have remained largely silent on the matter.

Meanwhile, in other elections-related news, a lawsuit was filed Thursday, naming the Secretary of State, in an effort to restore straight party ticket voting in New Mexico.  An Associated Press report states, “The lawsuit asks the state Supreme Court to order election officials to change ballots to allow voters in coming days and weeks to make a single mark to support a political party’s entire slate of candidates...Her office has contended that state law doesn’t specifically authorize the straight ticket option, which has been a long-standing feature of New Mexico ballots until this general election...The lawsuit includes sworn statements from registered voters saying the lack of a straight party ticket option limited their ballot options...One Santa Fe man said in his affidavit that a sample ballot in this year’s election “looks like a straight party option when it is not.”  State law once required lever-type voting machines to offer the straight ticket option.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Predatory Loan Shark Scuttled

Lots of good news for New Mexicans this week.  Undoubtedly, the highlight was the huge win for Attorney General King’s lawsuit against predatory lender FastBucks, LLC. Initial estimates put restitution for victims at $10,000,000...yes, ten million dollars! In addition to that, the company, with offices around New Mexico, was ordered to stop making illegal loans and will be unable to enforce certain current loans that are not in compliance with state law.

It was a big night in Hobbs Thursday night as about 50 people from Southeast New Mexico attended a Train the Trainer anti-meth session conducted by AG King’s office. The training project is aimed at raising awareness of the meth problem with community members and teaching them how to conduct their own local presentations on the dangers of methamphetamine abuse.

And today saw another big legal win for AG King’s office. The AG charged an Arizona firm with illegally offering and providing unauthorized immigration services in New Mexico. Centro Ayuda primarily targeted Spanish-speaking customers in the Albuquerque area offering them immigration services, including preparation of a Deferred Action application, a recently announced federal immigration program. Under a deferred action, certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific requirements are able to apply for an employment authorization for a period of two years. Centro Ayuda has agreed to close its Albuquerque office and dissolve its organization.

Friday, September 21, 2012

AGO Happenings This Week

Congratulations to our Criminal Appeals Division for a successful appeal this week that resulted in a court decision affirming the mandatory use of ignition interlock devices for first time DWI offenders, no matter what the source of their impairment.  The Court of Appeals sided with the Attorney General’s Office which argued that the interlock device requirement does not violate either the U.S. or New Mexico constitutions.  The case stemmed from the conviction for DWI of a woman in Santa Fe County who was found to have a number of prescription drugs in her system, but no alcohol.  She asked that the vehicle interlock requirement be removed in a conditional plea agreement and her request was granted by a Santa Fe District Court.  The Court of Appeals decision reverses the lower court’s ruling.

AG King addressed students at Griegos Elementary School in Albuquerque for their observance of national Constitution Day Wednesday.  He told the students about how our government works, why it works, and how they can aspire to be a future attorney general, governor, or president.  Upon asking one young boy if he knew how the Constitution began the student recited the entire Preamble.  AG King, a Constitutional scholar, was duly impressed.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

AG's Role in Paseo/I25 Election Question

Much has been said, and sometimes misreported, about the role the Attorney General’s Office has played in Albuquerque’s election ballot question regarding the proposed Paseo del Norte/I25 interchange construction project.

First, let’s re-establish the facts.  On August 16, 2012, the Office issued a legal Opinion that concluded the following:  According to the New Mexico Election Code, a municipality can not propose a question on a the statewide election ballot.  Included in that conclusion was the statement that, “Nevertheless, a municipality may submit a question to voters of the municipality on a municipal election held on the same day as a general election.”

Then on August 27, 2012, the AGO further advised the Secretary of State that the applicable state statute, while allowing a concurrent city-state election, also requires that:  “...although a municipal election may be held concurrently with a general election, the two elections must remain separate and any incompatible provisions, such as voter identification must be independently dealt with...The municipality (City of Albuquerque) is responsible for determining that the concurrent election and any combined actions comply with the requirements of the ordinance or law that governs the municipality’s elections.”

Attorney General King says that it is important for the public to know we are not the kind of lawyers who just say "You can't do that" and leave it.  We have been working cooperatively with the Secretary of State, County Clerk and City Clerk and their legal counsel to find the appropriate and defensible way to hold a concurrent election on this issue in November.

Now, here’s the misreporting from an Albuquerque TV station:  “The attorney general now says a question to approve money for the Paseo del Norte-Interstate 25 interchange can appear on the November ballot as long as the city follows state election rules...At first the AG's office said the city issue wasn't allowed on a general election ballot, which is limited to county and state issues.”  No...the AG has always advised (see above) that a concurrent election is allowed.

But on Wednesday Attorney General Gary King announced it would be OK to add the city question to the ballot as long as the Albuquerque City Council waives the voter ID requirement.  No, the AG did not announce anything...the Secretary of State released an attorney-client memo...where we simply reiterated our earlier advice.

The August 16th Opinion and the August 27th memo are posted on the AGo website at: https://sites.google.com/a/nmag.gov/test-nmag/News-Releases.