The president of a New Mexico business advocacy group filed a lawsuit against the state Republican party for defamation. Carla Sonntag, the president of the New Mexico Business Coalition alleges the Republican Party of New Mexico falsely accused her of attacking party chair Ryan Cangiolosi in a series of anonymous emails to party members ahead of the state party’s election. In December 2016, the state’s Republican Party sent an email to committee members apologizing for a series of anonymous emails disparaging Cangiolosi. In the email, the party blamed Sonntag for sending the emails. “The Republican Party of New Mexico, in consultation with our legal team, has done its investigative research and has uncovered that these emails come from accounts registered to Carla Sonntag and family,” the email from the party read.
As Democrats around the country were reeling from an unexpected loss in the presidential and many congressional races, New Mexico saw Democrats take back control of the state House of Representatives. Previously: Top ten stories of 2016: 10-6
This came two years after Democrats lost control of the House—where they held a majority for almost half a century. Conservative super PAC Advance Now New Mexico shelled out large amounts of cash towards unseating Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. But some critics felt that the PAC didn’t spend enough time focused on on maintaining the majority in the House or unseating other Senate Democrats. Hatch Mayor Andy Nunez, a Republican, lost his legislative seat in southern New Mexico to Las Cruces City Councilor Nathan Smalls.
An incoming Bernalillo County Commissioner and Breaking Bad actor is being accused of fraudulently declaring himself a candidate. Patricia Paiz, who lost the general election for Bernalillo county commission in district 2, filed a complaint in district court Tuesday claiming her opponent, Steven Michael Quezada, should have never been a candidate. Paiz’s lawyers, A. Blair Dunn and Colin Hunter, filed the complaint that says Quezada’s wife Cherise filled out her husband’s candidacy declaration form, therefore making all votes for Quezada illegal. “Contestant Patricia B. Paiz is the successful candidate having received a majority of the legal votes in the November 8, 2016 election,” the complaint reads. One of the exhibits Dunn and Hunter attached is an affidavit from “certified questioned document examiner” Karen Fisher-Weinberg, stating the form is in question.
The New Mexico Supreme Court is set to decide whether or not to extend online access of court records to journalists next month. While some praise the proposed change as a move toward more transparency, others cite a growing distrust of news media as a reason for access to remain the same. Most court records are already available to the public, but only in-person through the clerk’s office in respective court houses. Online court records are only available to lawyers and court officials. The proposed rule would allow journalists, law enforcement officials and people representing themselves in court to apply for online access to court records.
Two weeks before he takes office, incoming District Attorney Raul Torrez announced he had formed a team of prosecutors that will review a high-profile officer shooting case in Albuquerque. The goal is to determine whether to prosecute the case again. Torrez will officially take office as the 2nd Judicial District attorney next month, but on Tuesday said he already convened a group of seven district attorneys from around the state to review the controversial case involving Keith Sandy and Dominque Perez. Sandy and Perez were Albuquerque police officers who were charged with the death of homeless camper James Boyd. The first trial ended in a hung jury.
After her first week in office, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is ready to get to work revamping the state election code. She said while there are a number of things she wants to focus on, her office might have to get creative financially. “We have a lot to do and we’re not fully funded to do it,” Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report. Since former secretary Dianna Duran left office last year, there hasn’t been a lot of movement in terms of rule changes or reforms from the secretary’s office. Toulouse Oliver has long said she would work towards improving the state’s campaign finance rules if she were elected.
State Taxation and Revenue Department Secretary Demesia Padilla resigned from her position today, according to media reports. Padilla’s resignation came after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a search warrant on her house related to an investigation into allegedly aiding an ex-client by using her position as TRD head. Padilla worked as a certified public accountant before Gov. Susana Martinez appointed her to the helm of TRD in 2011. Related: The key parts of the Demesia Padilla search warrant
The search warrant sought Padilla’s personal and business income tax returns from 2011-2013, among other information, stemming from an anonymous referral sent to the Attorney General’s Office in July 2015 “alleging illegal and financially questionable acts” as well as a referral from State Auditor Tim Keller. The warrant also sought tax records from Jessie Medina Jr. According to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, Jessie Medina was listed as an officer of Padilla’s private accounting firm.
Many Albuquerque-area political figures are rumored to be gearing up for a congressional campaign after New Mexico Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she plans to leave the seat and run for Governor. There are still no definitive announcements or declared candidates, but the handful of people NM Political Report spoke to this week gave similar answers—that they have been encouraged to run and are giving it serious consideration. Some said they don’t want to run for family reasons, in particular because of the amount of travel that comes with the job. The state’s congressional members often travel back and forth from Washington D.C. and New Mexico. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich’s family, for example, lived in Albuquerque while he served in the U.S. House before Lujan Grisham.
Monday marked the first full day in the office not just for New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, but also for two new staffers. Toulouse Oliver was sworn in as Secretary of State late last week, about a month ahead of when she was originally scheduled to take office. Toulouse Oliver’s office announced in a press release that John Blair is the new Deputy Secretary of State and Theresa Chavez-Romero is Toulouse Oliver’s executive assistant. Blair most recently worked for the U.S Department of Interior as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. Born and raised in Santa Fe, Blair also ran unsuccessfully in the primary election for the New Mexico state Senate in 2008.
Decades worth of warnings about the danger of underfunding public defenders finally came to a climax last month, when a district court judge held Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur in contempt of court after Baur, the agency head, said he could not ethically take a handful of cases in rural New Mexico. New Mexico’s continued weak budget suggests that the state’s Law Offices of the Public Defender is unlikely to receive more resources any time soon. But according to leading criminal defense attorneys, public defenders were never a priority in the state budget even during better economic times. The recent flashpoint was when Baur showed up to the 5th Judicial District Court in Lovington to represent Michelle Sosa. Sosa was on probation for a previous aggravated battery conviction and tested positive for methamphetamines.