What do the race for New Mexico’s Public Regulation Commission and a late 1990s gang-related feud have in common?
Democratic candidate Jerome Block Jr., apparently.
The late 1990s was a period of legal turmoil for the 31-year-old legacy candidate, whose father and grandfather held the same seat and its equivalent on the regulatory body’s predecessor, the State Corporation Commission.
In recent weeks, SFR has reported previously undisclosed details regarding Block’s criminal history—including a 1998 disorderly conduct charge for urinating in public at Albuquerque’s Summerfest and a 1999 arrest for riding with a drunk driver [June 25: “Failure to Appear”].
Furthermore, SFR reported Block Jr. misrepresented how he escaped a 1998 aggravated DWI charge; the candidate publicly stated he had been found “not guilty” when, in actuality, the case was dismissed only after the six-month time limit for prosecution expired.
Now, SFR can report, allegations of gang-related violence can be added to the list of Block’s undisclosed past.
In 1998, a few weeks after Block’s disorderly conduct charge, a restraining order was filed against Block in First Judicial District Court, claiming he had threatened the life of another student at the University of New Mexico in retaliation for a gang-related fight the year before.
According to court records, on July 5, 1997, a large brawl broke out at a party in Santa Fe County between a gang called “CPB” and two brothers, Jacques and Sage Paisner. During the melee, one of the CPB members, Julio Mendoza, received a cut across the face from a beer bottle. Mendoza and the Paisners were hospitalized for injuries suffered in the fray.
In the weeks following the fight, Mendoza filed a civil suit against the “John Does” involved in the fight, using the discovery process to subpoena the Paisners’ emergency medical records. The Paisners’ father, Santa Fe lawyer S Barry Paisner, successfully fought the order, which he told the court was designed to intimidate the family. The case was dismissed.
But the feud didn’t end there. According to the restraining order application filed by S Barry Paisner on his sons’ behalf, Mendoza and his “associates” threatened the Paisner brothers on at least five occasions over the next year. Included among the allegations is the 1998 incident at UNM involving Block.
“On Friday, Aug. 28, 1998, at the UNM campus, Jacques Paisner was confronted by Jerome Block and Paul Barela, grabbed by the arm and detained,” the document states. “These individuals told Jacques Paisner that he ‘cut Mendoza’ and they were going to ‘cut’ Jacques.”
S Barry Painser told the court that the family had filed four police complaints but were told they needed a court injunction before the police could offer protection. Judge Petra Maes ordered an initial 10-day restraining order against Block, Barela and Mendoza. A month later, the injunction was made permanent. S Barry Paisner could not be reached for comment.
“It is true that the Paisner family did file a restraining order against me,” Block Jr. writes in an e-mail to SFR. “I believe that my involvement was just part of the procedure that Mr. Paisner was following to prevent retaliation against his son.”
Block says in his recollection of the events he did not threaten Paisner.
“The individual I was with simply pointed at Jacques and said, ‘He is the guy who stabbed [Julio],’” Block writes. “Never was Mr. Paisner ‘detained’ or threatened. I was not present at the July 5 incident, and do not know exactly what happened, therefore I had no reason to get involved at all with any of the parties.”
According to eyewitness accounts of the 1997 fight, CPB stands for “County Project Boys” and was less an organized gang than a group of party organizers that adopted thug-like demeanors. Based out of Capital High School, the group also was referred to by rival groups as the “Capital Pretty Boys.”
Block attended St. Michael’s High School and says he was not involved with any gang activities.
“During my years of growing up in Santa Fe I was never exposed to any gang activity, much less belonging to one,” Block writes. “I thrived in athletics during high school, and was too busy trying to raise a young son after high school to associate myself with this kind of activity.”
The alleged assault by Block occurred while the candidate was studying at UNM, another item of personal history under debate. Block publicly claimed he received the “equivalent” of an associate degree from the “Anderson Western States School of Banking at the University of New Mexico.” The Albuquerque Journal has since reported the institution does not exist.
As for the target of the attack, Jacques Paisner tells SFR he does not remember the incident clearly enough to comment, but the 28-year-old Santa Fean says he doubts it would impact the election.
“I know he is going to win [the election] anyway,” Paisner, an author who recently published a collection of writing, Albuquerque Blues, says. “His dad was in the same position, his grandpa was in the same position and nobody even knows what a whatever commissioner is. So he’s definitely going to win, no matter what you do.”
Block’s Green Party opponent for the 3rd District seat, Rick Lass, disagrees.
“This raises real questions to me about [Block’s] integrity and character and whether he’s really qualified to represent all New Mexicans on this very important commission,” Lass says.
Block, a title insurance salesman, recently denied Lass’ challenge to debate in each county in the district, and attacked Lass’ employment history working at a grocery store and pizza restaurant, as well as a 1999 domestic violence charge to which Lass pleaded guilty [July 23: “Manning Up”].
Lass, who is the director of the nonprofit Voting Matters, believes he will garner support from disenfranchised Democrats in the race. He says he is personally supporting a mostly Democratic ticket, including US Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for president and US Rep. Tom Udall, D-NM, for New Mexico’s open Senate seat. Although he assisted Carol Miller, an Independent candidate for New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District race, Lass says he is considering endorsing the Democratic nominee, Ben Ray Lujan, who currently holds the PRC seat at stake. Lass also has been keeping a high profile at Democratic campaign events, including the recent opening of Obama’s Santa Fe campaign office, an event Block did not attend.
“So much of this campaign, unfortunately, has been about the past and we haven’t even gotten to talk about what the Public Regulation Commission is and why it’s so important to have a person who represents the people,” Lass says. “I think if Block were to drop out then we could really focus on it a lot more.”