September 25, 2015

What to expect from Dianna Duran impeachment panel

The special committee tasked with looking into a possible impeachment of Secretary of State Dianna Duran will meet for the first time next week.

DSC_0044Whether anything substantial will happen at this meeting is a good question—one we are still trying to find an answer to. State Reps. Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, and Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque are the co-chairs of the bipartisan special investigatory committee. Neither returned our calls and emails left for them Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

Last time we went here was the fall of 2011, when then-state House Speaker Ben Luján appointed a subcommittee to look into the impeachment of Jerome Block Jr., a Public Regulation Commissioner who was under fire for alleged car theft and misusing state money. Block Jr. later pleaded guilty to the charges and resigned.

That year, the impeachment panel met a handful of times before Block voluntarily resigned by the end of the month in a plea deal with then-Attorney General Gary King.

This reporter was on hand to cover a Sept. 13, 2011 meeting for the Santa Fe Reporter:

Today, the subcommittee spent about a half-hour trying to narrow the following sentence in one of the approved rules: “Only subcommittee members, an analyst for the majority, an analyst for the minority and designated Legislative Council Service staff members may attend executive sessions.”

It came as part of a rule that would require the subcommittee to conduct “appropriate proceedings” in the process of considering impeachment.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Curry, mentioned striking “only” from the sentence to assure impeachment sessions always have an analyst for both parties and members of the LCS present. Rep. Larry Larrañaga, R-Bernalillo, followed up on the idea by making it into a motion. But before that happened, others suggested that moving “may” from the sentence would be more clarifying.

After much deliberation over this, the subcommittee ended up deciding to simply strike the entire sentence in question.

The subcommittee members also weighed how they, like a grand jury, would make impartial decisions amid the constant embarrassing news headlines about Block. State Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, explained at that meeting how he would remain unbiased.

“I read the news and the blogs for information,” he said. “I don’t believe everything they say.”

This meeting came during the 2011 special session on redistricting. Since no such special session is happening now, more could happen during next week’s first meeting.

Earlier this month, the interim Legislative Council approved formation of the special committee appointed by House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, to look into impeachment. They also approved $250,000 in funding for the committee.

In 2011, the Block impeachment subcommittee didn’t approve general counsel until its third meeting. Then, the subcommittee hired Albuquerque attorney Robert Gorence for the job after one week of searching for a lawyer.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

To date, Duran has remained adamant that she will stay in her office while fighting the 64-count criminal charges that Attorney General Hector Balderas filed against her in August. She is accused of taking using  $13,000 in campaign contributions. The complaint also found that Duran withdrew more than $400,000 from her personal bank account at casinos since stepping into office in 2011.

If Duran resigns or is impeached before Jan. 26 of next year, that will kick off a special election for November 2016 to replace the remaining two years of her term.

But any impeachment, if it goes forward, will be a lengthy process. For that to happen, the special committee would make a recommendation to the full House. The House must then give a majority vote for impeachment.

Then, the state Senate would have to preside over an impeachment trial. At the end of trial, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to impeach in order to remove Duran from office.

The special committee is set to hold its first meeting Monday, Sept. 28 at 9:30 am at the State Capitol in Santa Fe. The agenda for that meeting hasn’t yet been written.