Thursday, December 6, 2012
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
Friday, October 12, 2012
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Attorney General King staffers this week briefed New Mexico lawmakers on the importance of his lawsuit against the federal government over the illegal transport of Rio Grande water to Texas.
Assistant Attorney General and director of AG King's Water, Environment, & Utilities Division Steve Farris told a group of NM legislators that the water currently flowing south in the Lower Rio Grande is being stolen from our state. The theft affects lawmakers' districts from Las Cruces to Chama.
An account of the legislative hearing, held Monday in T or C, was reported by the Las Cruces Sun News. Click on the link below for the story.
Friday, August 10, 2012
Two big issues involving the Attorney General’s Office have a lot of people talking. It is important to clarify what the facts are in both issues.
First, the Paseo del Norte/I-25 interchange rebuild project in Albuquerque. I took a call from an upset person today who accused the Attorney General of trying to take away the right of Albuquerque residents to vote on whether they want to approve or shoot down a bond issue that would provide funding for the project. Whoa Nellie! The AG has no such power nor did the office’s advice specifically address this project at all.
Secretary of State Duran asked our office to examine whether it is legal to put a municipal question on a general election ballot. Our attorney was not even informed that the ballot question referred to the Paseo del Norte matter. Our office determined that New Mexico law limits the general election ballot to questions that are “either statewide or countywide in application”...period. Clearly, the AG had no grand designs on subverting the process for funding the Paseo del Norte/I25 Interchange improvement project. AG King has been stuck in that drivetime traffic nightmare himself quite a number of times...why would he want to throw a monkey wrench into something that could help countless Albuquerque area commuters?
Secondly, the issue of the Secretary of State’s postcards to NM voters in danger of losing their place on state voter rolls. Once again, we were asked for legal advice about language contained on the postcards in terms of whether it complied with state and federal voting law requirements. It was our determination that the language would likely pass muster with the U. S. Department of Justice, which is in charge of such things. Keep in mind, NM must be in compliance with the National Voter Registration Act, which is understandably of tantamount importance to AG King. Just as important to the AG is ensuring that there is never any sort of voter suppression at the polls in New Mexico. We believe the Secretary of State shares our goal and duty to help ensure fair elections in our state by making sure nobody cheats.
And that...is the rest of the AGO story.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
No such restriction exists in New Mexico law. AG King believes the Second Amendment right of an honest person to bear arms should not be infringed unless there is a compelling reason for the state to take such action.
Friday, July 20, 2012
This week the U.S. Senate halted efforts to advance legislation that would require independent groups to disclose the names of contributors who give more than $10,000 to independent groups for use in political campaigns. The measure, known as the DISCLOSE Act, (“Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections”) was drafted in response to the 2010 Citizens United ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that corporate campaign donations are a form of free speech and cannot be limited by government.
In a letter to the Governor before the last Session of the Legislature, Attorney General King stated: “Many of us are concerned that under current U. S. Supreme Court interpretations, there may be many so-called independent groups, corporations, non profits or others that will seek to expend substantial sums of money to influence elections without making fair disclosure of the sources of their funds. We do not believe that is in the public interest, and we firmly believe that requiring full and fair disclosure of the funding sources for all electioneering materials and expenditures is fully consistent with and authorized by the U. S. Supreme Court in the well known Citizens United decision, as well as other court precedent.”
AG King then proffered legislation that creates campaign disclosure requirements for third parties that campaign for or against political candidates in New Mexico. Unfortunately, the measure did not make it through the legislative process at that time. Not one to give up, the AG will try again in the next Session to enact a good, strong bipartisan supported law requiring disclosure of election campaign contribution funds. Unfortunately, to the detriment of political funding transparency, what AG King predicted about the explosive growth of secret big-money electioneering has already come true in our state.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Let's start at the bottom of the Journal's editorial and work our way up.
The paper states that, "King has a rash of unfinished cases around." Of course, there is no mention of which cases, or more importantly, why they are still unresolved. I'll take a wild guess and say that one of those the Journal is referring to is the Region 3 Housing Authority case...first indicted in 2009. Between the two separate cases there have been more than 20 Defense motions, including two motions to disqualify the AGO. Consequently, two appellate court decisions upheld the AG's right to prosecute the cases. Those delays should rightly be attributed to the Defense...not the Attorney General. In fact, we have been ready take the cases to trial since 2009. But somehow the Journal is determined to continue to say that these and other cases are 'languishing' because of something the AGO is or isn't doing. Apparently the real reasons do not fit the script though.
Next up, the Journal's contention that AG King's
"conflict of interest" has led to major delays and "seriously jeopardized" the corruption case against Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Nowhere does the Journal mention that the judge in this case expressly and unequivocally said in his official order that:
- The Court finds no intentional wrongdoing on the part of the Office of Attorney General;
- The Court finds that the prosecution was not motivated by vindictiveness or with a political purpose;
In non-legalese...the judge could not find any real conflicts. But once again, the Journal refuses to rely on factual information, in this case, from the judge himself.
Now, to the meat of the Journal's visceral reaction to the Attorney General looking into possible wrongdoing in the Governor's Office. The paper once again trots out the conflict horse saying AG King, "can't see the conflict-of-interest forest for the political-advantage trees." I am not sure if it was a mistake, but the editorial then states that it is indeed the Attorney General's job to, "represent the state and investigate allegations about public agencies and actions of public employees." And in the same breath the editorial says if the AG does deign to investigate, he opens himself up to more criticism than usual (ostensibly from the Journal) for being politically motivated because of his political plans.
But saving the best for last, the Journal posits that AG King should finish investigating and prosecuting other cases and not bother the Governor, i.e.,"...leave any investigation of the incumbent's administration to others." Seriously? If memory serves, the Journal frothily advocated investigating former Governor Bill Richardson for any perceived infraction the paper could gin up. But not this time, not by this Attorney General anyway.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Holding on to the American dream of homeownership has become a nightmare for many New Mexicans. AG King is trying to do something to alleviate the economic and personal stress that comes with facing the specter of foreclosure. It is called the Homeownership Preservation Program.
It’s not sexy or particularly newsworthy apparently, but the program certainly will positively affect the lives of a good many of our state’s homeowners who find themselves in the seemingly hopeless position of losing their homes.
The Attorney General’s Office issued a Request For Proposals (RFP) last week to solicit contractors capable of providing a number of remedial services recently funded by a legal settlement reached with top national banks for foreclosure abuses and fraudulent practices. The settlement allocated millions in potential homeowner relief; approximately 11 million dollars over the next three years will come directly to New Mexico for Attorney General King’s program.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Last week’s NM Supreme Court Opinion to narrow the use of executive privilege to deny public records requests is being hailed by Attorney General King as a welcome clarification of the privilege’s application in the Inspection of Public Records Act context. The AG is responsible for enforcing IPRA and a discussion of the effect of the Court’s ruling will be included in the published update of the law that the AG’s office provides to public bodies, including state agencies.
The Court’s opinion also concluded that release of public records cannot be denied by government officials who claim that disclosure is protected by the “rule of reason,” a court-created doctrine under a prior version of IPRA. Essentially, the “rule of reason” was used to claim that the release of certain documents was not in the public interest, even if they were not specifically exempted by IPRA. The NM Legislature has since amended IPRA to enumerate specific exceptions to disclosure; exceptions that can be granted only if they fall under the exclusionary provisions in IPRA or if they are otherwise exempt from disclosure by provisions of law. In simple terms, the Court says there is no longer any reason for the “rule of reason” regarding release of public documents.
AG King says this case makes it clear that any exemptions to IPRA lie squarely within the purview of the Legislature.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
R. David Pederson, General Counsel for Attorney General Gary King’s office, has been appointed as a Special Prosecutor by 13th Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez to aid in the prosecution of Animal Cruelty and Livestock violations for the Dennis Chavez case from Valencia County. The NM Attorney General’s Office is providing resources to obtain necessary expert witness assistance to facilitate the presentation of this important criminal matter. The collaboration between State and local law enforcement agencies greatly improves the successful resolution of these cases. This is part of the commitment of AG King to the on-going efforts of his statewide Animal Cruelty Task Force.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Attorney General King is pleased with the response by law enforcement and prosecutors to the plight of some of the horses at the Southwest Livestock Auction pens in Valencia County. The local district attorney has charged the auction’s owner with animal cruelty and other offenses. As promised, AG King provided legal help from his office to get to this point. Now, AG King is providing the primary funding to help pay for the prosecution of charges brought by the district attorney. The Attorney General says he recognized that the DA had limited resources so he found money in his office’s budget to help bolster those resources. AG King will continue to help in this particular matter and is committed to helping ensure the health and welfare of horses across New Mexico.
Monday, May 21, 2012
A measure that would reauthorize VAWA was recently approved by the Senate with broad bipartisan support. However, the House introduced its own version of VAWA reauthorization as H.R. 4970. This bill contains several provisions that would make it more difficult for immigrant victims of domestic violence to gain protections than current law provides. That bill was amended in committee on May 8, 2012, but because of the proposed rollbacks in victim protections I can not support this version.
Reauthorization is so important because it provides for continuation of vital programs addressing violence against women. To date, the policies and programs supported and inspired by the Act have been credited with providing lifesaving assistance to hundreds of thousands of victims.
In our letter to Congress earlier this year, Attorneys General pointed out to members a U.S. Department of Justice study that showed VAWA has transformed the response to domestic violence at the local, state and federal level. Its successes have been dramatic, with the annual incidence of domestic violence falling by more than 50 percent.
According to the American Bar Association, VAWA has been the single most effective federal effort to respond to the epidemic of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in this country. The act has ensured that legal and social services are available to survivors, and that law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, attorneys and advocates are well-trained and equipped with cutting-edge resources to effectively address these crimes in their own communities.
As law enforcement leaders, we recognize the importance of the Violence Against Women Act because domestic violence very clearly remains a serious problem, not only in New Mexico, but throughout the nation. One in four women in America experience domestic violence or sexual assault, and three women die at the hands of abusive husbands or partners every day.
In addition, human trafficking remains a related pervasive problem. The U.S. government estimates that 100,000 victims of human trafficking live in the United States today, and that as many as 17,500 foreign-born victims are illegally trafficked in from abroad each year. Many, if not most, of these victims are women who are coerced into prostitution and/or other forms of sexual exploitation, and forced labor. We need every available tool to fight these crimes.
Congress reauthorized VAWA twice in the last decade, New Mexico and the nation have a vested interest in seeing that it does so again. I strongly encourage you to contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to support the bipartisan Senate version for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
Gary K. King
New Mexico Attorney General
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Attorney General King is asking the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the lower Court’s ruling that negated parts of New Mexico’s Campaign Report Act by declaring unconstitutional the sections that limited campaign contributions to independent expenditure committees.
Why? Such committees' primary purpose is to influence elections. Allowing unlimited amounts of cash to flow into New Mexico invites corruption and special interest manipulation of our elections. Unlimited cash contributions to political campaigns puts out the welcome mat for “Pay to Play” scandals...New Mexico can ill afford to have any more of this type of corruption.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Friday, April 13, 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Our investigators and prosecutors did their jobs well. Block pled guilty to two (2) separate embezzlement charges; fraudulent use of a credit card; theft of identity; violation of the state Election Code, Campaign Reporting Act, and Voter Action Act; and conspiracy to commit violation of the Election Code. As I told reporters after the court proceeding, the Attorney General’s Office does not control sentencing.
Let’s not forget the significant positive things that came out of this prosecution and subsequent plea agreement. At our insistence, Block, Jr. resigned his $90,000 a year post of the Public Regulation Commission and also agreed never to seek public office again. The agreement also saved about a million dollars in expected costs for impeachment proceedings in the legislature that became unnecessary as a result.
Leaving the courthouse in Santa Fe yesterday I overheard a conversation in which one person asked, “Does this mean a public official can steal money from the public, violate election laws, and then get off because he claims he’s a drug addict?”
Monday, March 26, 2012
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Earlier this month Attorney General King issued a formal Opinion on appointment questions involving probate judges; questions that have persisted for almost 90 years in New Mexico. The following is text from an AGO news release regarding the Opinion:
Probate Judges Must Run in Next Election After Appointment
AG Opinion Suggests That Legislature Could Clear Up Appointment Issues
(SANTA FE)---Attorney General Gary King says any individual appointed to replace a probate judge who was in the first year of a four-year term does not finish the original office-holder’s term and must run in the first general election following appointment if the appointee wishes to continue to hold the position.
The AG Opinion is in response to a request from NM State Senator John Sapien, of Corrales, who asked, “Does a person appointed to replace a county probate judge who passed away during the first year of her four-year term finish the original office-holder’s term in office?”
Senator Sapien also asked, “If the appointee must run for the office prior to the expiration of the original office-holder’s term in office, must he run in the primary and general election?” The response: The appointed probate judge is subject to all of the normal legal requirements of any candidate running for that office and therefore must comply with the applicable provisions of the Election Code.
Additionally, the Senator asked, “If the appointee must run for the office in the next election cycle and wins, must he run again two years later when the original office-holder’s term would have expired?” The response: If the appointed probate judge is elected in the next election cycle, the appointee must run again two years later when the original term expires.
In closing, the AG Opinion states: The core issues raised here are, admittedly, difficult ones that require thoughtful contemplation. We note, again, that the basic advice of the Attorney General has not changed regarding these issues since 1924 and that the legislature has not changed the applicable law during that time. Perhaps the best course to eliminate future debate is for the legislature to address the issues and amend relevant statutes in order to clearly reflect legislative intent.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Friday, February 10, 2012
- $1 million for the State Financial Institutions Division.New Mexico borrowers will benefit from approximately:
- $63 million in homeowner relief through loan term modifications, principal reduction, and other direct relief.
- $12.5 million for refinancing for borrowers who are underwater and current on loans.
- $16 million for state payments designated to:
b)---Payments for state foreclosure prevention efforts, homeowner hotline, outreach and housing counseling [$11.7 million].
Mortgage servicer phone numbers for their customers who want to inquire about the settlement:
Wells Fargo: 1-800-288-3212
More information will be made available as the settlement programs are implemented. For more New Mexico information on the proposed agreement:
New Mexico Attorney General’s Office: 1-800-678-1508
Information Form for NM Homeowners: nmag.gov
INFORMATION for Investors in New Mexico 529 College Savings Programs operated by OppenheimerFunds.
Late last week Attorney General King announced that another settlement, negotiated in part by his office, has begun returning money lost by NM account holders.
In 2009 AG King began the investigation into losses related to the New Mexico 529 savings plans, along with the AGs of several other states. A settlement was reached in mid-2010 that provided New Mexico more than $67 million that was to be distributed by the state Education Trust Board. Subsequently, several separate lawsuits were filed by NM 529 plan investors that held up distribution of the settlement monies until now.
The good news is that account holders will be receiving their money as early as next month, depending on when the account holders send in their releases.
Notices to affected investors have begun to go out, accompanied by a release letter. Once those release letters are returned, the families will receive distribution funds via one of three approved methods within 40 days.
VERY IMPORTANT INFORMATION: For account holders who still have open accounts, their share will be placed into their accounts after receipt and processing of their release letter, which is being distributed with notice of the settlement. For account holders who have closed their accounts, they may choose one of three methods: (1) by re-opening a closed New Mexico 529 account; (2) by direct rollover to a qualified 529 Plan account that designated by the account holder; or (3) by check mailed directly to the account holder.