Hundreds gather for tear-filled Charles Daniels memorial

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday morning to honor the life, career and accomplishments of the former Chief Justice Charles “Charlie” Daniels. 

As an early morning rain began to dissipate, friends, family and colleagues shuffled into Albuquerque’s Popejoy Hall to pay their respects. The crowd included a who’s who in political and legal circles. 

Daniels died September 1 of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spoke at the memorial and said she first met Daniels through his passion for music, which he regularly played at bars and restaurants across the state.  

“I got to know what a kind and generous and funny person Charlie Daniels is,” Lujan Grisham said. 

The governor also dedicated September 15 to the memory of Daniels. 

Speakers fought through tears to tell heartfelt and funny stories about Daniels’ almost 50-year legal career. The theme of the morning was that Daniels was serious while simultaneously funny. 

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura recounted Daniels’ devotion to making sure the high court remained open to the public, despite financially difficult times for the state. “He modeled frugality by removing half of the lightbulbs in the Supreme Court’s halls, leaving us walking in the dark and writing on the back of scratch paper, using free pens that he picked up at banks and hotels, not just to save the state a few dollars, but to demonstrate that we were committed to do whatever we needed to do to keep the courts open and accessible,” Nakamura said. 

She added that he was usually the first person to arrive at the Supreme Court building, with little patience for inclimate weather excuses from others. 

“He often reminded both the justices as well as our court staff, ‘Pay attention to the laws of physics and don’t be a snow wussy,'” Nakamura said. 

In addition to his legal career, Daniels played in a band with other legal professionals called “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and for the past 20 years in a band called “The Incredible Woodpeckers.” Retired state District Judge Tommy Jewell and former bandmate of Daniels’ recounted a proposed band name Daniels came up with, illustrating the justice’s sense of humor. 

“We struggled with a name,” Jewell said.

Legal costs, impact on women often overlooked in lawsuits

When a state agency settles a lawsuit, often times the public’s focus is on how much money the state settled for. But an often overlooked portion of legal battles with state agencies is how much the state paid for legal representation. 

Since former Gov. Susana Martinez left office nine months ago, there have been a number of news reports about settlement payouts to a handful of former state employees for alleged workplace discrimination. Often, public scrutiny is aimed at the plaintiffs. In a high profile settlement involving former Department of Public Safety employees, New Mexico’s former State Police Chief, who was accused of sexual harassment, called the claims from his former employees baseless and accused them of extorting money from tax payers. But lawyers from two different lawsuits covered extensively by NM Political Report argue that there should be more focus on how much the state pays for long, drawn-out legal defenses to ultimately settle for hundreds of thousands of dollars, specifically when women are the accusers. 

 ‘It’s going to be like a proctology exam’

In December 2017, less than a month after the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center agreed to cut a jury trial short and settle with a former medical resident, Anesthesiology Chair Hugh Martin broke some bad news to his faculty—they would not be getting bonuses that year. 

“I regret to inform the faculty that due to the recent legal settlement with the former dismissed problem resident, Cyndi Herald, that the Department had to reallocate the monies I had planned to use for a retention bonus to pay the settlement legal costs to Ms. Herald/Attorney Lisa Curtis,” Martin wrote. 

The “problem resident” Martin referred to, Cynthia Herald, had spent years in a legal battle with her former employer.

UNM pays $800K in settlement, still secretive on other details

The University of New Mexico paid out nearly $1 million to a former medical resident who accused medical school administrators of retaliating against her for reporting she was raped by a male resident. NM Political Report obtained the settlement agreement this week, nearly nine months after the case went to trial. The agreement, obtained by NM Political Report through a public records request, sheds some light on why the school settled with former University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center anesthesiology resident Cynthia Herald. But other specifics, like how much of the $800,000 settlement came from the school and how much from the state or what prompted the school to settle, remain murky at best. Herald now lives in Michigan, advocating for victims of sexual abuse and hopes to start a psychiatric residency program soon, according to her lawyer, Randi McGinn.

State law encourages secret payouts

Before Cynthia Herald left the Bernalillo County courthouse last November she told reporters that she was relieved to finally gain closure on an ordeal with the University of New Mexico that lasted more than half a decade. Herald sued the university’s medical school, claiming she was wrongfully dismissed from a residency program and settled before closing arguments. The terms of the settlement were, by state law, temporarily shielded from public scrutiny. That meant the public couldn’t see the total amount UNM agreed to pay, including how much money was to come from the medical school’s anesthesiology department and how much from the state’s Risk Management Division. Seven months later, the University still won’t release that information and cites the same law.

Settlement in UNM whistleblower suit involving alleged rape

After a contentious trial filled with tears, frustration and sharp warnings from the judge, both parties in a whistleblower lawsuit came to an agreement late Thursday night. The confidential settlement between the University of New Mexico Hospital and a former resident came after almost two weeks of testimony and hours before the jury was set to hear closing arguments. Former UNMH medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald sued the school, alleging she was pushed out of the program after she told her bosses she was raped by a male colleague. UNMH attorneys disagreed, saying they removed her from the residency program because she made many possibly fatal mistakes during surgeries, had a prescription drug problem and did not take responsibility for her shortcomings. Related: See all our stories from this trial
Herald told reporters after the trial she feels “a huge sense of relief” but that the decision to settle was not an easy one.

Two more calls for a mistrial in UNMH whistleblower case

For a second day in a row fireworks lit up behind the scenes, without the jury present in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the University of New Mexico Hospital. Dr. Cynthia Herald, a former medical resident, filed the lawsuit, alleging she was fired after telling her bosses that a male colleague raped her. Update: The two sides reached a settlement. 

Like Wednesday, tensions between lawyers simmered Thursday morning, prompting District Judge Shannon Bacon to address both counsels. “You all hate this case,” Bacon said to lawyers for both UNMH and Herald. Bacon’s comment came after UNMH lawyers requested a mistrial, the third request so far in the two-week-long trial.

Near-mistrial, heated words in UNMH whistleblower lawsuit trial

A judge nearly threw the case out and a lawyer made a witness cry on the seventh day of trial in a whistleblower lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Hospital. Former UNM medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald alleges UNMH officials unlawfully dismissed her from the residency program after she reported a colleague raped her. Update: The two sides reached a settlement. 

After almost a full day of routine testimony, the judge came close to declaring a mistrial and had sharp words for Randi McGinn, one of Herald’s lawyers, over her comments to a witness outside the courtroom. Toward the end of the day’s proceedings, Dr. Sally Vender, an anesthesiologist, testified on behalf of UNMH. Vender described her friendship with Herald, which started when they were both first-year medical interns.

Woman who filed whistleblower lawsuit against UNMH testifies in court

The former University of New Mexico medical resident who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university testified Thursday, the fourth day of the jury trial in Second Judicial District Court. Dr. Cynthia Herald, who accused medical school administrators of unlawfully firing her after she told them a male colleague raped her, gave her account of both the alleged rape and the aftermath. Herald told the jury that after the alleged attack she went home and took a shower before she began “soaking and crying for about an hour.”

“I just wanted to wash everything off of me down the drain,” Herald said. Herald also explained to the jury why she didn’t file a police report against the male doctor. “Instead of being the doctor who was smart or the doctor who was competent, I was always going to be known as the doctor who was raped,” Herald said through tears.

Medical school dean testifies in whistleblower lawsuit

On the second day of a whistleblower trial against the state’s flagship university, the dean of the University of New Mexico’s medical school took the stand to testify concerning allegations that the hospital discriminated against a woman who says she was unlawfully fired after telling her superiors a fellow medical student raped her. UNM School of Medicine Dean Dr. Paul Roth testified that he does not remember being told   resident Dr. Cynthia Herald reported the attack.  When asked by Herald’s attorney Lisa Curtis if he would normally want to be notified of such an instance, Roth answered with two simple words. “Very likely,” Roth said. Previously: Whistleblower suit against UNM over rape allegation begins

Roth also confirmed to Curtis that, previously in his career, he reprimanded someone for sexual misconduct that happened off campus and during off hours.

Mayoral candidate won’t say if he will award contracts to his current employer

Almost every election includes questions about donors’ intentions and if a winning candidate would give special treatment to one in exchange for the biggest contribution. But sometimes a candidate’s day job can raise questions about how he or she will conduct business as mayor—and if old employers will get preferential treatment. Mayoral candidate Brian Colón, for example, works at the prominent Albuquerque legal firm Robles, Rael & Anaya P.C. The firm has received large city contracts in two different administrations and is staffed with a former city attorney, a former Bernalillo County attorney and a number of former assistant city attorneys. Robles, Rael & Anaya has decades of combined experience in city matters, perhaps the most of any law firm in the city. Colón recently indicated in an email to NM Political Report that he would not cancel city legal contracts with his current employer if he were elected as mayor.