March 17, 2015

Lawsuit calls for more time to decide on Griego replacement

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Senator Phil Griego's desk on March 14, 2015 after his resignation. Photo credit: Andy Lyman

A new lawsuit calls on a state district court to slow down the process of naming a new Senator to District 39 to allow county commissions to abide by the state law that requires 72 hours notice on meetings except in emergencies.

Senator Phil Griego's desk on March 14, 2015. Photo credit: Andy Lyman

Senator Phil Griego’s desk on March 14, 2015.
Photo credit: Andy Lyman

Before Gov. Susana Martinez can pick a replacement, all six county commissions with areas within Senate District 39, which was recently represented by Phil Griego, must pick a nominee. Martinez will be able to make a selection from that list.

Martinez asked county commissions to declare an emergency meeting and provide her with nominees by 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Two county commissions complied, but the others are waiting until Wednesday or Friday to send in a selection. The legislative session ends on Saturday.

The new filing, filed in the First Judicial District Court on Tuesday, has four plaintiffs who live in the district and says that “no emergency exists” to waive the 72-hour notice provided under the Open Meetings Act.

The four plaintiffs are Jean Coulton of Lincoln County, Eric Tyson of Santa Fe County, Fred Sanchez of Torrance County and Richard Garcia of Valencia County.

The filing seeks assurances from the court that there will be 72 hours of notice before all meetings by county commissions to name their choice to replace Griego and an injunction to stop Martinez from making a selection made by a county commission that violated the 72 hour notice.

From the filing:

Plaintiffs are entitled to a preliminary injunction because (a) the public will suffer irreparable harm if Governor Martinez appoints, or the Senate seats, a nominee in violation of applicable laws, (b) Defendants will not suffer any harm if forced to comply with applicable laws, (c) the public interest is clearly served by enforcing the Open Meetings Act and the laws related to filling a vacancy in the State Legislature, and (d) Plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits because an argument that a resignation from the Senate creates an emergency for the purposes of the Open Meetings Act is far-fetched.

The full filing is available at the bottom of the post.

The lawyer who filed the lawsuit is John Wertheim, a former chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.

The filing comes a day after a petition to the state Supreme Court sought to speed up the process and compel the county commissions to hold emergency meetings or allow Martinez to choose a replacement from the two county commissions that met on Sunday.

The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, a group that advocates for open government and pushed for the 72-hour notice law, opposes using emergency meetings in this instance. The Republican Party of New Mexico has pushed for a quicker replacement, while the Democratic Party of New Mexico wants more deliberation.

Griego was a Democrat and it is widely expected that Martinez will choose a Republican replacement as she did in replacing former Rep. Stephen Easley. Easley died while in office and was replaced by Vickie Perea, a Republican.

Griego resigned on Saturday after admitting to violating the constitution by benefiting from a contract made possibly by legislation passed by the legislature.

Supreme Court Filing for Replacing Phil Griego

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