State faces suit over absences hurting teachers’ evaluations

A teacher from a rural New Mexico school district is suing the state over its policy on teacher absences. The teacher says the Public Education Department’s policy of punishing teachers on evaluations after their third absence should be changed. PED has since amended that punishment to six school absences per school year. PED Secretary Hanna Skandera responded to the lawsuit with a very short prepared statement. “We received the lawsuit,” she said.

DOH and cannabis producer have their day in court

A New Mexico state agency and a medical cannabis company argued in a state district court Monday morning whether the state’s punishment of the company was warranted. Santa Fe District Court Judge David Thompson heard from both the state’s Department of Health (DOH) and a lawyer representing medical cannabis producer New Mexico Top Organics-Ultra Health about whether the company will have to shut down retail operations for five days later this month. The department claims Ultra Health violated the state’s medical cannabis program rules by moving a plant out of their approved growing and retail facilities and into the public. The pending sanction is a result of a cannabis plant Ultra Health used in an exhibit at the New Mexico State Fair last September. The plant Ultra Health brought to the State Fair was non-flowering, meaning it was not mature enough to be used for consumption..

Legislative staff must turn over docs in corruption case

A district judge ruled Tuesday that New Mexico legislative staff must turn over some documents to the Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office. The AG’s office sought documents related to a criminal case against former Senator Phil Griego. Second Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless ruled that some documents and information requested by the AG’s office through subpoenas are susceptible to inspection after Legislative Council Service argued against it. Loveless ruled that “LCS has no constitutional privilege to refuse to produce the materials.”

This comes after the AG’s office and LCS sparred over whether legislators and legislative staff should be subject to subpoenas requiring their testimony. These documents include many documents related to the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, which itself investigated Phil Griego for the violations of Senate Rules and the state constitution that led to his resignation from the state senate in 2015.

Legislators join battle over immigrant tax returns

Legislators joined the dispute between an immigrant rights group and the state Taxation and Revenue Department. State Rep. Miguel Garcia and State Sens. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Richard Martinez, all Democrats, sided with the immigrant rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido and MALDEF. The groups say that TRD is illegally withholding tax returns from immigrants who are in the country illegally. The TRD secretary says that the efforts are legal and necessary to root out fraud in tax returns.

ACLU suit seeks to end testing ‘gag rule’

A lawsuit challenges a ban on “disparaging” school tests by public education students that has been called a “gag rule” in the past. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the lawsuit in First Judicial District Court Wednesday morning on behalf of six public schools teachers and one parent of a student in public schools. A regulation from the state Public Education Department (PED) says that public education employees cannot “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of standardized tests.” Penalties for violating the provision include “suspension or revocation of a person’s educator or administrator licensure or other PED license.”

The ACLU of New Mexico says that this runs counter to the rights of teachers and students under the New Mexico Constitution. The suit seeks an injunction to stop the enforcement of the rule. “The Public Education Department can’t enact sweeping restrictions intended to intimidate teachers and silence viewpoints that they don’t like,” ACLU of New Mexico Staff Attorney Maria Sanchez said in a statement.

Eighth time’s the charm: Finally a judge, hearing date for Griego case

After a spate of recusals by judges, a district court judge finally accepted the corruption case involving a former state Senator. District Court Judge Sarah Singleton will take the case of Phil Griego, who is charged with ten counts related to corruption while he was in office. Griego resigned from the Senate last year because of a land deal. The judge set an initial hearing for April 4 at 8:15 a.m. according to nmcourts.gov.

Singleton was the eighth judge to be assigned the case; the previous seven recused themselves from the case. Since NM Political Report last wrote about the case on Thursday, two additional judges—Raymond Ortiz and Francis Mathew—recused themselves.

Our Dianna Duran coverage from filing of charges to guilty plea

A stream of Dianna Duran news swept the state late last week; she resigned as Secretary of State late Thursday but the news didn’t break until after 1:00 a.m. on Friday. Hours later, she appeared in court and pleaded guilty to six charges, including two felonies. The resignation wasn’t exactly unexpected; calls for her resignation came almost as soon as Attorney General announced 64 charges (another charge of identity theft was added later) in late August. She faced possible impeachment by the House of Representatives. Here are all of the stories that New Mexico Political Report wrote about Duran’s case since August.

Impeachment panel postponed after Duran’s resignation

Following the resignation of Dianna Duran the House Special Investigatory Committee looking into her impeachment will not meet on Tuesday as regularly scheduled. The panel was investigating whether or not the House should look into impeachment of Duran for the multiple charges she faced. Duran pleaded guilty to six charges, including two felonies, on Friday. Hours earlier, Duran resigned from office. Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, also issued a statement where he addressed the need for the panel—or lack thereof now that Duran is no longer in office.

After guilty plea, Duran defends ‘tremendous’ public career

After pleading guilty to two criminal felonies and four misdemeanors, Dianna Duran spoke to reporters about her integrity in 36 years as an elected New Mexico official. “I am truly, truly honored to have served New Mexicans and I want them to know that none of this, none of this that has been going on for the past few months has anything to do with the integrity of the office and the office that New Mexicans now have as their Secretary of State’s office,” she said to a crowd of reporters outside the Santa Fe District Court minutes after pleading guilty. Again and again, Duran said the criminal violations she pleaded guilty to—which led to her resignation as Secretary of State late Thursday night—only happened in her personal life and not in her professional capacity. Duran pleaded guilty to embezzlement and money laundering following charges from Attorney General Hector Balderas that she used campaign money for personal use. Duran’s plea deal includes five years of probation and allows her to keep her government pension.

Judge grants delay, Duran hearing won’t happen until December

New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s attorney was granted some extra time in the criminal case against her client on Thursday. First Judicial District Court Judge Glenn Ellington granted an extension for Duran’s attorney Erlinda Johnson after she asked the court for another 60 days to comb through documents related to the case. Johnson has not yet responded to New Mexico Political Report’s requests for comment. Any comment will be added when it is received. A spokesman for the Attorney General said the office would not be releasing a statement regarding the extension, but did say the office would proceed with business as usual.