January 28, 2016

Duran impeachment panel ends with a look forward

State Reps. Zach Cook and Gail Chasey after the first House Special Investigatory Committee meeting.

The second—and final—meeting of the House Special Investigatory Subcommittee in the last year was a little anti-climactic.

Dianna Duran after her guilty plea.

Joey Peters

Dianna Duran after her guilty plea.

The reason, of course, for the lack of fanfare was that the committee was put together to look into the possible impeachment of Dianna Duran. Duran resigned before the committee’s second meeting, which was originally scheduled for the end of October.

Since Duran resigned, there was no need for the committee to continue the investigation.

Still, there are questions that need to be resolved. Not about the Duran situation, but what the committee should do in future situations, including providing future standards for moving an investigation forward.

No power to subpoena

One question the committee discussed was about subpoena powers. Currently, the full House can approve the use of a subpoena for committees. That’s what happened in 2011, when a similar committee investigated Jerome Block Jr. for possible impeachment.

But that investigation came at a fortuitous time; it took place during a special legislative session held for redistricting.

In the Duran case, the impeachment committee’s counsel said that he would have asked for an extraordinary session to bring in members of the approve a subpoena.

There has only been one extraordinary session in New Mexico history, in 2002 when legislators gathered to override a veto by Gary Johnson.

“It would have been a short extraordinary session,” attorney Robert Gorence told the committee. He said there was discussions of attempting to call an extraordinary session in November “so I could obtain those records.”

State Reps. Zach Cook and Gail Chasey after the first House Special Investigatory Committee meeting.

State Reps. Zach Cook and Gail Chasey after the first House Special Investigatory Committee meeting.

The records he’s referring to are records from banks and casinos so he could look into allegations that Duran moved money from campaign bank accounts to personal accounts for gambling purposes.

The committee agreed to look at giving future committees subpoena power in the future, but said discussion needed to be held over how wide the subpoenas’ scope could be and if they would only have such power during the interim and not while the legislature was in session.

Gorence said subpoenas would be “limited to documentary evidence” and that they would not be used to compel testimony, as criminal subpoenas can do.

How much evidence to move forward?

No one has ever been impeached by the House; in fact, impeachment proceedings have never even reached the floor.

This means that certain portions of the process are unclear. One is how much evidence is needed for an investigator, such as Gorence, to move forward.

“This isn’t a civil or criminal proceeding,” Gorence said. “It’s a constitutional proceeding to do with removing someone who has been duly elected.”

What Gorence suggested was saying that “credible” evidence needs to exist to move forward with investigations. That was what a 2005 impeachment panel into State Treasurer Robert Vigil required. Still, it has not been codified.

Like the Duran case, Block and Vigil resigned before they could be impeached.

After they were impeached, there were some recommendations for future panels, but nothing that rose to changing statute or rules either time; still, the current committee looked to the 2011 guidelines, which looked to the 2005 guidelines.

Future plans

“Our job’s over,” Committee co-chair Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said of recommendations. “We can certainly recommend that the House at the very least discuss it in the future.”

While they will compile a final report which will be presented to the full House with input from members and Gorence, they also looked further into the future.

“We just dropped off in ’05 and ’11,”Co-chair Zach Cook, R-Ruidoso, said. “Maybe we need to follow through.”

Gorence, who was the attorney retained by the 2011 committee and he agreed.

They planned on taking up recommendations during the interim Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee.

While interim committees have members of both the House and Senate, Cook didn’t think that would pose a problem, as they were not discussing any certain case. Instead, they would be discussing the process at large and what rules or statute need to be changed to streamline it in the future.