Friday, September 30, 2011

Facts in the Block Prosecution

The past two weeks have been very productive for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office. The government corruption case involving Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block, Jr. was a successful prosecution by the AGO's Government Accountability Division and a resolution in the best interests of justice and the general public.

As always, not everyone is satisfied with the end results. We have heard from a few who think Jerome Block, Jr. should have faced a firing squad or that the Attorney General be flogged for going "too easy" on the defendant. And as usual, these sanguinary-minded few are lacking the basic facts. 

Perhaps everyone can benefit from the rest of the story in this case and maybe, just maybe...gain a better understanding of what has taken place in the Jerome Block, Jr. case.  

First, the state legislature appropriated one million dollars during the just concluded Special Session for the express purpose of impeaching the million of yours and my tax dollars, the majority of that sum would have gone to the Special Prosecutor as legal fees. That is a fact...not an assertion.

Secondly, Jerome Block, Jr. plead guilty to about eight thousand dollars in improper state credit card usage. If you or I had committed the same crime it is highly unlikely we would serve prison time if we also agreed to pay the money back like he has.  He was treated no differently than any other person who committed the same crimes.

Let me further break it down and repeat some of the penalties Block now faces.

1. He will resign from office, savings to taxpayers $90,000/yr.
2. He can never again hold any public office.
3. He pleaded guilty to multiple felonies.
4. He is required to successfully complete rehab and drug court for his substance abuse problems.
5. He must repay between 8-10 thousand dollars involved in the state credit card offense.
6. His impeachment trial is now moot, savings to taxpayers about a $1,000,000.

And yes, charges against his father Block, Sr. will be dropped in relation to the misuse of campaign finance money from several years back...why? Because Jerome Block, Jr. took responsibility for committing the crime. 

Here is one more fact...Jerome Block, Jr. is a first time offender.  I think any reasonable person would agree that this was the best possible outcome for the state of New Mexico and for the cause of justice. Unfortunately, some folks still subscribe to the theory that facts should not get in the way of a story. 


Finally, congratulations to the AGO Consumer Protection Division for a major victory against a lawyer in Las Cruces who was found to be victimizing his own clients. As Attorney General King put it, "The ruling was very significant and a good beginning for the people who ended up being victims of a lawyer who was supposed to be protecting them. Our next focus is to help these consumers get back some, if not all, the money they paid in legal fees." 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

AG Responds to Criticism in Records Case

More often than not, Attorney General King does not respond in kind to attacks against him and the Office, resorting to tu quoque is not his style. Occasionally, however, the verbal assaults are so egregious, misinformed, and outright wrong that at least setting the record straight is needed. The following is the unedited version of AG King's Letter to the Editor in an Albuquerque newspaper.


In a series of editorial articles, the Journal has been critical of the Attorney General's Office (AGO) for pursuing our legal rights under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Most recently our actions were called absurd. Such an editorial conclusion is, however, an oversimplification that does a great disservice to an understanding of IPRA. Here is the rest of the story.

The AGO is indeed tasked with enforcement of IPRA. Our office does this in many ways, including training of public officials in compliance, investigation of complaints and advice to agencies we believe are non-compliant, and enforcement through litigation.

Enforcement of IPRA is also personally important to me because I drafted, sponsored and passed the modern version of the Act while in the Legislature in 1993. Therefore, no one understands the irony of a finding of violation of IPRA against my agency more than I do myself. So, how does the AGO find itself in court, defending against a claim that it is in violation of IPRA?
At no time has my office argued that the documents requested are not public records. This battle is exclusively about the propriety of delivering the records to a specific attorney who has been ordered by a Federal Court to refrain from filing such a request with the AGO. Journal reporter Thom Cole was provided with substantially similar documents in a request he filed in a parallel case without delay or incident. The important difference, Mr. Cole is not subject to any court orders, that I am aware of, prohibiting him from such a request.

In the State action, Judge Brickhouse based her finding of violation on the fact that there is no specific exemption to IPRA that fits the facts of this case. We believe the judge should have applied the exemption within IPRA that is available when there is a sound public policy reason for a denial. As the drafter of the legislation, I included this provision because I knew that it would be impossible to foresee every reason for exemption that could be thought of and listed in the bill in 1993. I can assure you that I never intended for the law to be used as a tool to thwart a court's discovery order. Nor was the law intended to allow forum shopping by a Plaintiff for collateral attack on a valid court order from a different jurisdiction.

In the underlying Federal case here, the Judge ordered the Plaintiffs' lawyer to stop (or "stay") their requests for information (discovery) from the AGO for good reason. Many of the claims brought against the office in the federal suit were clearly prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. In fact, the Federal Magistrate cautioned the Plaintiff's lawyer at the initial scheduling conference that the prohibited claims would likely result in a motion and order staying discovery and urged him to drop the claims, which he refused to do.  Consequently, the order staying discovery was entered. When opposing counsel used an IPRA request in State Court to subvert the Federal Court's order, he was found to be in contempt and fined. This cavalier attitude toward the Federal Court order should not be taken lightly.

In order to mask his true reason for making this IPRA request, the Plaintiffs' attorney represented to the State court that he was not using the Act to subvert the order of the Federal Court. However, when we delivered the documents for review recently, he had all three of his clients in tow. Clearly he misled the State court judge to support his IPRA request. Upon learning of his subterfuge, my office asked the Federal Court judge to find that opposing counsel continues to be in contempt of the discovery stay that is currently in effect and issue a penalty that will ensure compliance. We are asking for a significant penalty this time because he has continued to violate the court’s order even though he was previously fined for contempt.

I believe the question of application of discovery stays to IPRA requested information is very important and worth the litigation we are pursuing. I certainly do not believe it is absurd for the State of New Mexico to have its day in court.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Report on AGO Road Show in Roswell

Attorney General King’s traveling Road Show rolled into the city of Roswell in Chaves County this week. For those not familiar with this event, personnel from various divisions in the office regularly bring many of the services of the Attorney General’s Office, free of charge, to communities all over New Mexico. AG King joined several of the separate presentations and met with community members. Nearly 50 individuals attended the training session.

As always, the highlight of the trip was the “Sunshine Laws” compliance presentation for local government and the general public. Our Civil Division attorneys explained the Inspection of Public Records Act and Open Meetings Act and what responsibilities public employees have under both laws. All attendees received a copy of the IPRA and OMA Compliance Guides. Nearly 50 individuals attended this presentation.

The AG’s Communications Division delivered an Internet Safety presentation to about 300 students at Mountain View Middle School. 7th and 8th grade students were told about the dangers that lurk on the Internet and how to avoid being victims of child predators.

At a different event, nearly 90 sixth graders from the same school attended a presentation on Underage Drinking Dangers. Preventing underage consumption of alcohol has long been an important cause for Attorney General King.

The AG’s Anti-Meth Initiative Train the Trainer program was also made available to interested volunteers. Under this program, community volunteers are taught to present a pre-packaged anti-meth instructional in their own towns.

All of these presentations and others are part of a continuing effort by the Attorney General’s Office to bring government services to the people of New Mexico in as many communities as possible.