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.”

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