SELECT title FROM cont_articles WHERE id='' LIMIT 1 Santa Fe Reporter

Gila Hiccup

Former Interstate Stream Commission director says group violated the state Open Meetings Act

Local NewsMonday, September 22, 2014 by Laura Paskus

A former director of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, Norman Gaume, announced Monday that he’s planning to sue that agency for alleged violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act, and the action might be enough to create a hiccup for a proposal to divert water from the Gila River.  

In his letter to the commission that gives notice of the pending court action, Gaume says its Subcommittee on the Gila River Diversion Project has been meeting without giving public notice, without publishing its agendas, and without publishing its minutes.

The Interstate Stream Commission has had nearly ten years to decide whether or not to build a diversion on the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico.

With just a few months remaining, the commission must let the federal government know by the end of the year what New Mexico plans to do on the Gila. That is, if New Mexico will meet future water demands in four counties—Grant, Luna, Hidalgo, and Catron—through efficiency and conservation or divert the Gila’s waters, build a “New Mexico Unit” of the Central Arizona Project and trade water with the Gila River Indian Community.

It’s all part of a complicated water deal that dates back to the mid-20th century.

An outspoken opponent of plans to build a diversion project on the Gila, Gaume has filed Inspection of Public Records Act requests, criticized the agency’s record of transparency on the Gila, called the engineering plans for diversion “flawed” and refuted the state’s claims over how much water might actually be available from diversions of the river.

Now, Gaume has retained the lawfirm, Egolf + Ferlic + Day to represent him against the commission. Egolf, who is also a Democratic state congressman representing Santa Fe, says the pending lawsuit isn’t related to his work as a legislator.

Egolf says he’s “flabbergasted” that the subcommittee was meeting and making decisions—including issuing contracts—without ensuring its process was transparent and its meetings open to the public. “It’s an amazing violation of the Open Meetings Act of monumental proportion.”

He says now that the commission has been put on notice, it has 15 days to remedy the situation or respond before the complaint hits District Court.

First passed by the state Legislature in 1978, the Open Meetings Act sets the rules for how meetings involving public policies are to be conducted. It states, in part:

In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them.

“This is the nuclear bomb option here,” says Egolf of Gaume’s notice of intent to sue. “The law is very clear.”

SFR was unable to immediately reach the ISC spokesperson for comment about the allegations.

Lackluster Gov Forum

Martinez and King talk to VIP crowd at joint appearance

Local NewsMonday, September 22, 2014 by Joey Peters

It's been a putrid campaign season in New Mexico thus far, and by the looks of the first gubernatorial forum between Gov. Susana Martinez and challenger Gary King, things won't be getting better.

The forum might very well have symbolized everything wrong with the state's politics and power structure in recent times.

First, let's take a look at the format. The Albuquerque forum, which moderator Kent Walz took time to explain was "not a debate," came with the sponsorship of no less than 15 business and construction organizations, many of which were listed on the podium like a sick, half-assed cousin of the corporate sponsorships people are used to seeing in sports stadiums or on the uniform of a Nascar driver.

Walz, editor of the Albuquerque Journal, explained that the questions both candidates for the highest office in state government would soon answer were written by the organizations putting on the forum.

Questions from audience members would not be allowed, which didn't so much matter once it was taken to account who most of audience members were. Before the forum began, attendees sitting at the coveted tables near the podium got a chance to introduce themselves, coming from the likes of local law firms and energy companies like PNM.

"In my book, if you're here today, you're a VIP," said Jim Chynoweth, managing director at the Albuquerque offices of real estate marketing company CBRE, shortly before introducing Walz. "So, why don't we give ourselves a round of applause."

Unless you were with media, attendees of the forum had to pay $30 to get in. The timing of the forum, held during the lunch hour on a workday, also wasn't exactly optimal for ensuring public turnout.

Walz read an introduction he says was crafted by each candidate, beginning with Martinez, who he said "turned the largest structural deficit in state history into a surplus while protecting key priorities like classroom spending and basic health care. This was done without raising taxes."

It's a claim that's been constantly repeated by Martinez for years now, and one that's truthfulness has come under heavy scrutiny from some of her Roundhouse colleagues as well as local media

Questions hinged around such topics like Obamacare, "onerous" federal regulations and whether the state should outsource government jobs to the private sector ("What types of jobs could be outsourced?" was the follow-up). Worse yet, both candidates had a chance to see the questions in advance—well in advance.

Martinez, the incumbent Republican, clearly had a prepared answer for each question. King, on the other hand, tended to range on multiple issues in the same response.

"I think that it's actually great that we're here to talk about the No. 1 issue in New Mexico, which is the economy," King, the state's current Attorney General, began in his opening remarks. "And I think though the course of this campaign so far this summer, we've seen a lot of ads on TV, hardly any of them talked about the economy. The one that's most recent talks about a fellow named the Casanova Con Man. And it does have one piece of truth in it and that piece of truth is that he was convicted and sentenced to 34 years. The piece that is missing is that it was my agents, as attorney general, who went and found him in Boston and brought him back to New Mexico and it's my attorney that prosecuted him and put him in prison for 34 years."

King was referring to charges about his office's role in allowing a career con man out of prison nearly three decades early. SFR published an investigation into the dilemma in June and an analysis of his dispute with the Martinez commercials last week.

King continued long-windily: "And the rest of the outcome, not so good. But we fought all the way through the system and made sure he didn't get out early. And so the real reason we have ads like that in campaigns now is because we don't want to talk about the real hard truth in New Mexico. And the real hard truth in New Mexico is that we have the worst economy in the country."

So much for capturing the audience with first impressions. When King talked, he could scarcely be heard. In fact, during the entire forum, both candidates performances felt like they were there out of an obligation rather than a true desire to campaign for the state's highest office. Martinez projected a much more public relations-friendly image during the forum, one that was frankly better suited for the special interests responsible for the event. When the topic of education came up, she lauded the work of her administration's controversial A-F school grading system.

"When I think about what's important, I think about a recent trip I took to Gadsden, which is a high poverty Spanish-speaking school district," Martinez said. "I went to that school, and when we first graded them three years ago, they had one 'A' and the rest were 'D's and 'F's. When I visited them a couple of months ago, there are five 'A' grades and a bunch of 'B's and not a single 'D' or 'F' school in that school district."

Martinez didn't mention that district's six 'C' schools.

"I passed by a child that waves at me and says, 'Miss, I read at 6.2,'" Martinez continued. "I holler back and I say, 'What grade level?' And they'll say, 'the fourth.' And we'll high-five each other, give each other a hug, because they know what it means to read at grade level or above. And that's exactly what we're doing. That's what I mean by education reform."

Martinez declined an invitation to appear with King at the New Mexico Press Association's annual meeting this weekend.

Both candidates, however, are scheduled to attend at least two more debates before November 4. One will be a Spanish language debate on Univison on Oct. 6—Martinez will speak Spanish while King uses an interpreter—and the other will be aired on KOAT-TV on Oct. 19.

Here's to hoping both top today's event.

Public Bank Gets Off the Dime

League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County holds event Tuedsay; Daylong sypmosium is Saturday

Local NewsMonday, September 22, 2014 by Justin Horwath

The proposal to create a public bank to inject cash into Santa Fe’s economy has moved from the mayoral campaign trail to the mayor’s office.

Mayor Javier Gonzales said on the campaign trail that his administration would probe the idea of creating a public bank that would turn taxpayer money into low-interest loans for small businesses.

Now the idea is getting attention in a forum held Tuesday, Sept. 23 by the League of Women Voters of Santa Fe County. The forum, says the nonpartisan group, will be a “presentation and educational presentation and discussion of public banking, its possibilities and risks.” It’s at Christus St. Vincent Hospital’s southwest conference room, in the lower entrance near the cafeteria, from 5:30-7:30pm.

Author, playwright and lecturer Craig Barnes, the group says, and state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, “will describe the history and experience of public, or community, banking, and discuss the possible role of public banks in funding public programs.” The two will answer audience questions, says the group, whose sister organization in Vermont is also conducting a study of a public banks there.

Then, a daylong symposium on the topic is planned for Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center. That event, hosted by WeArePeopleHere! and the Public Banking Institute, begins at 10:30 am and ends at 9 pm. Gonzales and Barnes are among speakers at the program, whose organizers are charging $40 admission.

In early September, Gonzales' administration floated a bid to “further research the feasibility of establishing a publicly owned bank to help finance community projects, reduce risk to public funds in existing financial markets, and provide better financial returns on public investments.” Proposals were due Sept. 8.

There’s only one public bank in the nation: the Bank of North Dakota, which says it “administers programs that promote agriculture, commerce and industry.”

Tequila and Turmoil

Alfredo Corchado on journalism in the US and Mexico

Local NewsFriday, September 19, 2014 by Julie Ann Grimm

When Alfredo Corchado talks about freedom of the press, he’s thinking about something with heaver implications than whether the local county commission has an ill-advised backroom meeting. For journalists covering the political and social scene in Mexico, press freedom is literally a life and death issue.

That’s why he threw back a shot of tequila as he kicked off the Lannan Foundation’s speaker series this week at The Lensic. The series continues with speakers including Noam Chomsky and Max Blulmenthal.  

Once part of a 13-member press corp for The Dallas Morning News in Mexico, Corchado is now the paper’s only staffer in its Mexico bureau. He’s recently published a book, part personal memoir and part journalism, called Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness.

“It took a lot of music and a lot of tequila to write this book,” he tells the audience, delivering his laugh line.

It wasn't until he got to the part about the death threat from the cartel that he actually drank the liquid courage on the stage.  

A child of the border region who was born in Durango, Mexico, he then moved with his family to California and later El Paso as a young man. Now living in Mexico again and writing for the American newspaper, Corchado says he’s comfortable straddling the two nations.

“We are the same geography: one blood, two countries, dancing out of step. Two souls still clashing,” he says, reading a passage from the book. He adds later, “I’m not complete unless I’m telling stories in two countries."

While he's covered the narco wars, pervasive violence and the rise of power for the Zetas cartel, the Juarez murders, poverty, several presidents with varying degrees of corruption, and a class system with laws that "only work for the rich," to name just a few topics, Corchado says he's most interested in the stories of hope from the land he loves.

Still, Corchado—who was able to get on a plane when his life appeared in danger—knows that life for reporters in the US is very different from those in parts of Mexico. Storytellers here, he says, must take seriously their obligation to deliver the news about what’s happening south of the border. Too many journalists there have died trying. Reporters with “more protection,” he says, have a responsibility “to make sure their plight remains fresh in our minds.”

"We need to do a lot more to explain to American readers the reach of the cartel, I think it's a disservice to Mexico and it's a disservice to our colleagues to just say 'that corrupt little country south of the border.' It is not that easy. It is not that way," he says. "I'm also often encouraged by colleagues and by Mexicans themselves who will say 'yes, the United States is to blame. The United States has a huge huge blame. If the United States were to legalize drugs tomorrow, this would really change.'" 

Corchado also makes it part of his mission to ensure that murdered and missing journalists aren’t reduced to simple numbers. Here’s a list of some of their names, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists: 

Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, Notisur and Liberal del Sur

     Between February 5 and 11, 2014, in Las Choapas, Veracruz, Mexico

Adrián Silva Moreno, Freelance

     November 14, 2012, in Tehuacán, Mexico

Regina Martínez Pérez, Proceso

     April 28, 2012, in Xalapa, Mexico

Maria Elizabeth Macías Castro, Freelance

     September 24, 2011, in an area near Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Luis Emanuel Ruiz Carrillo, La Prensa

     March 25, 2011, in Monterrey, Mexico

Noel López Olguín, Freelance

     March 2011, in Chinameca, Veracruz, Mexico

Carlos Alberto Guajardo Romero, Expreso Matamoros

     November 5, 2010, in Matamoros, Mexico

Luis Carlos Santiago, El Diario

     September 16, 2010, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Valentín Valdés Espinosa, Zócalo de Saltillo

     January 8, 2010, in Saltillo, Mexico

Bladimir Antuna García, El Tiempo de Durango

     November 2, 2009, in Durango, Mexico

Norberto Miranda Madrid, Radio Visión

     September 23, 2009, in Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico

Eliseo Barrón Hernández, La Opinión

     May 25, 2009, in Gómez Palacio, Mexico

Armando Rodríguez Carreón, El Diario de Ciudad Juárez

     November 13, 2008, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

Alejandro Zenón Fonseca Estrada, EXA FM

     September 24, 2008, in Villahermosa, Mexico

Amado Ramírez Dillanes, Televisa and Radiorama

     April 6, 2007, in Acapulco, Mexico

Rodolfo Rincón Taracena, Tabasco Hoy

     January 20, 2007, in Villahermosa, Mexico

Roberto Marcos García, Testimonio and Alarma

     November 21, 2006, in Mandinga y Matoza, Mexico

Bradley Will, freelance

     October 27, 2006, in Santa Lucía del Camino, Mexico

Dolores Guadalupe García Escamilla, Stereo 91

     April 16, 2005, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Gregorio Rodríguez Hernández, El Debate

     November 28, 2004, in Escuinapa, Mexico

Francisco Arratia Saldierna, freelance

     August 31, 2004, in Matamoros , Mexico

Francisco Javier Ortiz Franco, Zeta

     June 22, 2004, in Tijuana, Mexico

José Luis Ortega Mata, Semanario de Ojinaga

     February 19, 2001, in Ojinaga, Mexico

Philip True, San Antonio Express-News

     December 15, 1998, in Jalisco, Mexico

Luis Mario García Rodríguez, La Tarde

     February 12, 1998, in Mexico City, Mexico

Víctor Hernández Martínez, Como

     July 26, 1997, in Mexico City, Mexico

Benjamín Flores González, La Prensa

     July 15, 1997, in San Luis Río Colorado, Mexico

Jesús Abel Bueno León, 7 Días

     May 22, 1997, in Chilpancingo, Mexico

Ruperto Armenta Gerardo, El Regional

     February 5, 1995, in Guasave, Mexico

Jorge Martín Dorantes, El Crucero

     June 6, 1994, in Morelos, Mexico


Supreme Court Says Yes to Pot Question

Court says Santa Fe and Bernalillo County clerks can add advisory question to ballot

Local NewsFriday, September 19, 2014 by Joey Peters

The pot vote is back on. Ballots in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties are set to feature an advisory question on marijuana decriminalization per a Friday ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

The high court held an emergency hearing, then said the Secretary of State Dianna Duran had refused to perform her mandated duty when she told both counties that she wouldn't be placing questions on their ballots despite orders from the respective commissions.

The 3-0 decision comes from justices Barbara Vigil, Petra Jimenez Maes and New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Michael Bustamante. Justices Edward Chavez, Richard Bossen and Charles Daniels weren't present at the hearing, and Bustamante filled in to make sure an odd number of judges decided the motion.

The decision should put an end to the seemingly endless ping-pong between the counties and the New Mexico secretary of state's fight on the issue. Both county commissions voted earlier this month to place a non-binding advisory question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot to ask voters whether the counties should support lowering penalties for possessing of one ounce or less of marijuana.

The questions won't carry the force of law with them. In other words, they're symbolic. Small marijuana possession is already decriminalized in Santa Fe's city limits. Efforts to bring the issue to voters in a ballot initiative failed in Albuquerque and halted in Santa Fe after the City Council passed decriminalization outright last month. 

Some Republicans have criticized the decriminalization initiative as an attempt to get liberal-leaning voters to the polls. Both county commissions are controlled by Democrats.

Duran, a Republican facing a tough election this fall, last week told both counties that she wouldn't be placing the questions on the ballots based on legal advice that counties don't have the right to put "poll questions" on statewide general election ballots. The counties then each filed a writ of mandamus to the state's highest court for an emergency hearing. The court consolidated both cases into one hearing, which was originally scheduled for next Tuesday but was moved up to Friday over concerns that all offices in charge of elections are able to send out absentee ballots by tomorrow. During the hearing, attorney Maureen Sanders, who was contracted by both counties to represent them, implored the court to consider Duran's authority to reject county questions.

"If somebody believes that advisory questions are not allowed in New Mexico, then they can take other methods of challenging a commission," she said. "In this case, though, to allow the secretary of state within days of the election to make that decision is inappropriate. She does not have the power to make the decision or to determine whether or not a particular resolution passed by two county commissions is in fact legal or illegal under the laws of the state of New Mexico." 

"So we don't even have to get to the propriety of the question in this case this afternoon," Vigil responded. "We can narrow our determination to whether she has the authority under our laws to make this decision."

Sanders responded in the affirmative, and added that the court could "leave for another day and another case, perhaps, the whole issue of whether or not advisory question questions are allowed in the state of New Mexico."

Albuquerque attorney Rob Doughty, who argued on behalf of Duran's office, implored the court to consider otherwise.

"Ms. Sanders is talking about change and change and change and change," he said in his opening statement. "The only change that's going in New Mexico right now is the fact that Bernalillo County and Santa Fe County—they're trying to do something that's never been done in the history of New Mexico: to put a poll question on statewide ballots."

He argued that state statute gives Duran the authority to act on her interpretation of the election code. State statute doesn't specifically address advisory questions, but Maes pointed out how it contains words allowing "other questions." 

"My question, and I know your question is, what does this mean?" Doughty responded. "What does it mean on questions other than proposed constitutional amendments? We just do not know what it means ... there is no definition of what 'other questions' means." 

Doughty argued that the secretary of state has the power to interpret "other questions" to not include advisory questions. The three judges didn't buy the argument. Bustamante added that the state constitution itself doesn't address all the types of questions that are often included in elections, such as municipal bond issues. Interpreting the broad language to not include certain types of questions would mean "we would have to go back and change how we define the constitution," he argued. 

Doughty also brought up the concern that allowing advisory questions on the ballot could confuse voters into thinking that they'd carry legal weight and "open a can of worms" of allowing multitudes of poll questions on future election ballots. In her rebuttal, Sanders countered that argument by saying that voters "have the ability to understand" advisory questions. 

The court's unanimous decision came as a sigh of relief to the organizers who spent the summer pushing for a decriminalization ballot initiative. 

"We have a campaign," said Pat Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico. "We can go to work."

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat running to unseat Duran for secretary of state this year, accused Duran of violating state law in her actions earlier this month.

“The Supreme Court has upheld that the secretary far overstepped her authority and manufactured a crisis for our state when none existed," Oliver said in a statement. 

Bobbi Shearer, who works in Duran's office director of the Bureau of Elections, told reporters that she was concerned that advisory questions would now become a trend.

Meanwhile a poll in Friday's Albuquerque Journal asserted that 50 percent of likely voters in the state oppose marijuana legalization, but says the number of registered voters who favor legalization outnumber those who oppose it. Stay tuned on whether those trends bear out in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, where the first absentee ballots are due to be mailed out Saturday.

BREAKING: Commission Advises No Retention of SF Judge

Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission says attorneys rate Sheri Raphaelson poorly

Local NewsFriday, September 19, 2014 by Justin Horwath
The New Mexico Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission announced a rare “do not retain” recommendation after evaluating the performance of First Judicial District Court Judge Sheri A Raphaelson.

The nonpartisan group’s evaluation, released today, says low scores in surveys of attorneys, court staff, jurors and other participants who interacted with Raphaelson factored into the 15-member commission’s decision to recommend to voters that they should not retain the judge in the upcoming November election.

“Attorneys give her low ratings when it comes to treating all participants equally and for displaying fairness and impartiality toward each side of the case,” the 15-member commission’s evaluation says. “They also rate her lower for not always exercising sound legal reasoning and for not conducting herself in a manner free from arrogance.”

After being elected to the bench, district court judges are also subjected to nonpartisan retention elections where they don’t face opponents. They must receive approval of 57 percent of voters to stay on the bench.

The commission issued two “do not retain” recommendations this year out of 85 judges judges standing for retention across the state.

The commission, established by the state’s Supreme Court and known as JPEC, has issued recommendations to voters on whether they should retain judges and justices for nine elections. At least eight of the commission’s 15 members must agree on a recommendation. The 15 appointees, which include seven lawyers and eight non-lawyers, rely on surveys of the judges to issue recommendations. It doesn’t release vote tallies or confidential midterm surveys of judges.

But it does release final surveys filled out by three different categories of citizens who might interact with a judge: attorneys, including defense and prosecutors; court staff; and resource staff, which can include police officers, probation officers and social workers.

Out of 124 attorneys surveyed, 45 percent either strongly recommended or somewhat recommended Raphaelson should not be retained. Roughly 42 percent of  54 court staffers said the same, while 78 percent of resource staff leaned toward “do not retain.”  

Judge Raphaelson’s survey scores among resource staff improved from her 2011 interim evaluation, the commission says, but her scores among attorneys decreased or stayed the same since that confidential evaluation.

“During this final retention evaluation,” the commission says, “Raphaelson did not take responsibility for her survey scores and the negative comments by survey participants. The commission feels her attitude and demeanor are reflective of her judicial temperament and are an accurate reflection of the survey results.”

Judges are able to see comments from survey respondents, says Brian Sanderoff, President of Research and Polling Inc., the Albuquerque firm that conducts the surveys. But, he adds, those comments are confidential.

From May 1, 2012 to April 30, 2013, parties excused Raphaelson “at a significantly higher rate than any other judge in the district (537 times),” says the commission, “requesting their cases be reassigned to a different judge.”

She was appointed in 2009 and elected in 2010 to the bench on the First Judicial District Court, which includes Los Alamos, Rio Arriba and Santa Fe counties. The group recommended the retention of four other district judges in the court: T. Glenn Ellington; Raymond Ortiz; Sarah Singleton; and Mary Marlowe Sommer.

The group also recommended voters in the area should retain state Supreme Court Justice Edward Chaves. 

Cynthia A. Fry, Linda M Vanzi and Jim Wechsler, members of the state’s Appeals Court, also received “retain” recommendations from JPEC.

Do-not-retain recommendations are rare. 

“It’s not an easy thing to do,” says Karen Cortese, a commissioner since 2008, "but we’ve done it in the past.”

Yet she and Denise Torres, chair of JPEC, says they’ve seen judges be elected after JPEC’s do-not-retain recommendation. Torres says one judge reacted positively to the “jolt.”

“We continued to work with that judge and we saw significant improvement,” she says.

The group distributes guides to educate voters about the records of judges and justices up for retention. You can view the reports at

Climate March

People are encouraged to bring their energy to two green events this weekend

Local NewsThursday, September 18, 2014 by Joey Peters

In anticipation of next week's United Nations Climate Summit, New Mexican residents will have plenty of opportunities to join in on local "People's Climate Marches" this weekend.

The first event will be on Saturday in Albuquerque starting at 9 am at the Immaculate Conception Church (619 Copper Ave.). That march will go to the Federal Court Building and end at Robinson Park around 11 am. Santa Fe's climate march starts at noon that same day at the Plaza. It is planned to go past the Roundhouse and end at the Railyard.

Attendees are encouraged to bring signs and banners addressing "concerns and solutions" about climate change.

"By marching together, we amplify the message that it is past time to take significant action to eliminate human impacts on the climate," reads a statement from Positive Energy Solar, which is co-sponsoring both marches.

At least four local students will be marching in the People's Climate March the next day in New York City. Tammy Harkins, an English teacher at Santa Fe High School, is taking the four students—two from Santa Fe High and two from the University of New Mexico—to the march after winning a contest though the Energy Action Coalition that will pay for their airfare to New York City this weekend.

The contest had them each make a video about their thoughts on fighting climate change while Harkins submitted a brief essay on the topic. Members of the group will also have 20 minutes to share their thoughts and concerns with a UN representative. Harkins says they'll also be spending the weekend attending workshops concerning the issue. 

But perhaps the biggest event will be the march, which is said to bring a big turnout.

"They're expecting anywhere from 250,000 to half a million people," Harkins says.

Emails Contradict AG's Con Man Account

Gary King and defense in the Michael Soutar case negotiated terms, records show

Local NewsThursday, September 18, 2014 by Justin Horwath

Internal emails contradict the account given Wednesday by a top official at Gary King's office who told reporters that "the attorney general did not negotiate any kind of agreement with [Michael] Soutar"—a con man prosecuted by King's office but released early from a 34-year prison sentence.

"It's my understanding that you and Raymond [Sanchez] discussed the terms of the motion to reconsider the sentence concerning the securities related convictions," against Soutar, Eleanor Brogan, the con man's public defender, wrote to King on Feb. 21, 2012.

"I've told [Brogan] I'm comfortable that what you and I agreed to will stand," Raymond Sanchez wrote on Soutar's behalf to Gary King in a March 12, 2012 email.

Two days later,  Dave Pederson, a special counsel in the AG's office, 
wrote to his boss: "Gary, Soutar will cop to a plea to all remaining charges tomorrow. I agreed if he does that, no objection to running those concurrent with original sentence.”

The email traffic relating to the the case is coming to light after the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Susana Martinez began hammering away at King's role in Soutar's ultimate release with radio and now TV ads, based on a June cover story published by SFR.

That sentence was supposed to be 34 years, handed down by First Judicial District Court Judge Michael Vigil in 2007 after a jury convicted one of New Mexico's most infamous con men on ten felonies for defrauding victims who invested money in an art market he established in Santa Fe in 2004. By March 2012, Soutar, known as the Casanova Con Man, had been behind bars for nearly eight years, thanks to a joint prosecution between Attorney General King’s Office and the Regulation and Licensing Department’s Securities Division.

King's office—notably not his Democratic gubernatorial campaign—called a press conference in Albuquerque on Wednesday to combat what Pederson characterized as "factual inaccuracies" and an "attack on the professional integrity of the attorney general’s office" by Martinez' ads.

Pederson opened the conference saying the "inferences in the ad are that there was an exercise of some kind of undue influence by Raymond Sanchez on the attorney general—and that this resulted in some sort of back-room bargain that let Michael Soutar out of prison."

Pederson, Sanchez and King served in the Legislature together, he told reporters at the conference, but "that didn't enter into the equation either for Attorney General King and certainly not for me" in the position taken by the attorney general's office during a March 2012 resentencing hearing in that resulted in Soutar's release.

King's office did not oppose Soutar's release in the hearing, despite opposition to Soutar's release by the Securities Division.

Sanchez was never listed as Soutar's attorney in the case, but the Albuquerque lawyer had been lobbying King for nearly a year to pursue "mediation" with King's office as Soutar asked the state's Court of Appeals to overturn 10 felony convictions.

In February 2012, the state Appeals Court upheld all of Soutar's convictions, nullifying the ability of Soutar and King's office to enter into official "mediation." That didn't stop the recidivist felon from asking Judge Vigil to reconsider the harsh 34-year sentence. And emails obtained earlier this year by SFR show that while King noted to a colleague that the Appeals Court ruling meant Soutar lost his "negotiating position," he said he was still concerned about the victims getting their money back in the case.

The two sides continued to communicate about both the terms of the motion the defense was drafting to ask Vigil to reconsider his sentence, which he did, suspending 15 years off the sentence and ordering him to pay roughly $200,000 to various victims in the case.

Not all Soutar’s victims from the scheme got compensated, however, including James O’Hara, a market employee who says Souter didn’t pay him $5,400 in wages, and his brother, who invested $32,500 in the market.

Asked if the court could have forced Soutar to pay back his victims while keeping him behind bars, Pederson responded in the press conference that, “I don’t really know.”

“We will be able to say that justice was served,” Pederson wrote to King the day before Soutar’s March 2012 hearing, “vast sums of State money saved by avoiding future trials, full prompt victim compensation, and closure for all parties.”

Emails show Pederson telling a victims advocate with the attorney general’s office to not respond to James O’Hara’s inquiries about whether he and his brother might get restitution money from the hearing. James and his wife Linda obtained all the emails quoted here in a request made under the Inspection of Public Records Act.

“By the way, [Raymond Sanchez] tried to tell me you ‘gave up’ the escape charge,” Pederson wrote in a March 14, 2012 email to King, referring to Soutar pleading guilty to escaping from prison after his December 2004 indictment. “I told him I convinced you not to just dismiss it versus the other severed counts. He also said you felt the original sentence was too harsh! Always the spin-master.”

Peter St. Cyr contributed to this report 

Meet A Cop

Santa Fe Police will be at Starbucks to talk to community

Local NewsWednesday, September 17, 2014 by Joey Peters

Coffee will be served, but will there be doughnuts? 

Tomorrow at 5 pm, city residents can meet with members of the Santa Fe Police Department as a part of a "Coffee with a Cop" program designed to grow the police force's relations with the community. Residents are free to come ready to discuss "community issues, build relationships and further open lines of communication" with the city's cops, according to the announcement.

The initiative, a national program sponsored by the federal Department of Justice, comes at a time when the state's biggest city police department in Albuquerque has been under intense scrutiny from the public and the Department of Justice for its shootings of civilians over the past few years.  

Santa Fe's police have been more fortunate in their relationship with the community than the cops just south of here, though some officers haven't been immune to making aggressive actions that led to public relations problems. 

SFPD Police Chief Eric Garcia will be present at the community meeting, along with several higher-up city police officers. The city's police force have done well for themselves under Garcia, getting their 10-hour-a-day, four-day workweek reinstated recently. City Council also approved SFPD's request earlier this month to spend $854,000 on new cop cars. 

The coffee meeting, which will be located at Starbucks on 4960 Promenade Blvd. on the south side of the city, is designed to "break down barriers" between the cops and the residents they're sworn to protect. 

“We hope that community members will feel comfortable to ask questions, bring concerns, or simply get to know our officers,” Garcia says in a statement. 

The initiative is planned to be held on a regular basis in different parts of the city. 

Triathlon Losing Steam?

With one day of registration remaining, numbers are low for seventh annual event

Local NewsWednesday, September 17, 2014 by Julie Ann Grimm

Fewer people have registered for this weekend's seventh annual Santa Fe triathlon than did for last year's event, but city officials say they expect a last-minute rush of participants before the Saturday showdown.

The deadline to register is midnight Thursday, says an optimistic Liza Suzanne, manager for the city’s Genoveva Chavez Community Center.

“We have noticed last-minute registrations for all our recreational events in Santa Fe,” she tells SFR, adding later that officials from the USA Triathlon organization told her recently that participation numbers for similar events are down across the country, “but they don’t know why there is a decline in the tri trend.”

A number of local competitive athletic events recently might have also taken a bite out of numbers, she notes. (For example, on Sept. 13 more than 700 people ran the Santa Fe Thunder half-marathon from Fort Marcy to the Buffalo Thunder Casino, and Las Campanas held its triathlon on Labor Day.) 

Last year, 206 adults and 12 relay teams competed in the city event that includes a 5K run, a 12-mile bike ride and a 400-meter swim. This year, just 164 individuals and 10 teams have signed up. The footrace course traverses Rodeo Road and the Arroyo Chamiso Trail. After the run, competitors pedal bicycles down Rodeo Road to Richards Avenue, Rancho Viejo Boulevard and beyond. Finally, they jump into the center’s Olympic-sized pool.

The event is scheduled to begin at 7 am on Sept. 20 at the Chavez Center. A kids triathlon is also scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 21. Register for either event in person at the center or New Mexico Sports Online.

Gila Hiccup

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