June 16, 2017

City of ABQ files protection order against mayoral hopeful’s daughter

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Albuquerque City HallPhoto Credit: Andy Lyman

The theatrics continued with a lawsuit from Stella Padilla, who wants to run for mayor, alleging  Albuquerque’s city clerk failed to properly count petition signatures.

The City of Albuquerque filed a protective order Monday against Stella Padilla’s daughter alleging the daughter twice harassed and tried to intimidate City Clerk Natalie Howard.

Padilla originally sued  Howard in her official capacity as city clerk, alleging her office improperly vetted campaign petition signatures.

An affidavit outlines two encounters Howard had with Padilla’s daughter, Vanessa Benavidez, over the past two months.

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In the affidavit, which lists Benavidez’s last name as Padilla, Howard wrote that Benavidez arrived at the city clerk’s office to serve Howard with a copy of the original complaint. In the legal document, Howard describes how she refused to sign the official note at Benavidez’s insistence, and said she would consult with the city’s legal department. After a brief verbal altercation, Howard said, Benavidez pushed open a door to “the non-public area of the Clerk’s office” and stood about a foot from Howard and insisted she sign the document.

Howard said she called security, and it seemed as though Benavidez left. But, Howard wrote, the woman was waiting in the elevator when Howard, accompanied by a staffer and a security guard, tried to leave her office.

“We went to the elevators in the hallways and pressed the call button for an elevator to come to the 7th floor to descend,” Howard wrote. “When the elevator that was called reached the 7th floor and the door opened, Vanessa Padilla was alone in that elevator.”

Howard said Benavidez exited the elevator “while staring at me.”

Then, two weeks later, Howard said  she was again confronted by Benavidez, this time outside the state district courthouse in Albuquerque. There, Benavidez approached Howard with a “Stella for Mayor” campaign sign and “positioned herself approximately six inches away.” .

“I felt that Padilla was attempting to intimidate me,” Howard said in the affidavit. “I then told Padilla to stop the harassment, to which she replied: ‘You don’t know what harassment is.’”

The request for a protective order from the city asks district Judge Nancy Franchini to bar anyone associated with Padilla’s campaign “from engaging in conduct directed at [Howard], which a reasonable person would find to be annoying, alarming, hostile or menacing in nature.”

The city’s legal department did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Padilla’s attorney, Blair Dunn, told NM Political Report the city’s request is frivolous.

“I think it’s silly,” Dunn said.

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Further, Dunn said, the rule the city attorneys cited as grounds for a protective order applies to depositions and discovery.

“They’re attempting to do a backdoor protective order,” Dunn said.

In their request, city attorneys acknowledged that, noting that the issue raised by the motion does not “arise from a discovery request”

But, the city wrote, the rule in question allows a judge to “make any order which justice requires to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression or expense.”

The rule in question, in its entirety, outlines procedures and limitations for collecting information through discovery.

Dunn also said that if Howard felt threatened she should have filed a police report and requested a restraining order in a separate case.

“It should be a separate deal,” Dunn said.

The city’s request does not mention if Howard or any other city official sought help from police.

Ultimately, Dunn said, Benavidez has a right to protest public officials in public places and that the request from the city is an attempt to “chill [Benavidez’s] free speech.”

This is Dunn’s second recent case involving free speech and a restraining order.

Earlier this month, Dunn filed a request for a temporary restraining order on behalf of his father, Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn against a Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner, alleging defamation.

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