February 25, 2016

What’s happening with Dianna Duran

Attorney Erlinda Johnson (l) and her client Dianna Duran (r) awaiting a judge's decision on her plea deal in October, 2015.

New Mexico’s former Secretary of State who went to jail for gambling with campaign funds is back in the news.

This time, it’s because she wants certain parts of her criminal sentence reduced.

Update: Judge Glenn Ellington set a hearing on March 11 on Duran’s request. The rest of the story remains as originally written below.

It can get a bit complicated and news reports have focused on the back and forth, so we decided to break it down and explain what is going on.

Restorative Justice

When Judge Glenn Ellington sentenced Duran, it included 30 days in jail as well as other provisions, including community service and speaking to public groups about her time in government and the crimes that she committed.

Attorney Erlinda Johnson (l) and her client Dianna Duran (r) awaiting a judge's decision on her plea deal in October, 2015.

Attorney Erlinda Johnson (l) and her client Dianna Duran (r) awaiting a judge’s decision on her plea deal in October, 2015.

Ellington described some of the provisions as “restorative justice.” These would include Duran interacting with residents of the state about her crimes. Ellington said that Duran’s role as a high-profile public official made this type of sentencing appropriate.

At the time, Duran’s attorney described the idea to the Albuquerque Journal.

“The speaking requirements and the apology letter fall right in line with the concept of restorative justice,” said Duran’s attorney, Erlinda Johnson, “as it will compel Ms. Duran to address the New Mexico community about her life, her rise to power, her gambling disorder, her offenses and the steps she’s taking to address her disorder.”

This was shortly after the sentencing, before Duran decided to accept her guilty plea. Ellington had given Duran the unusual choice to either accept the penalty he laid down or withdraw her guilty plea.

Duran did not withdraw her plea. She spent 30 days in jail over the holidays before her release in January.

Talks for five minutes

Duran’s first public appearance to speak to a civic group was less than auspicious. Duran was scheduled to speak to Albuquerque Wings for Life.

Duran showed up 40 minutes late and spoke for just five minutes before heading back home. She declined to speak to news reporters on the scene.

According to her sentencing, the speech was set to be just one of four monthly public appearances, one of which needs to be in an educational setting.

After that one brief experience, Duran wants to reduce the future number of those events, according to a court filing.

Sentence reduction

Duran’s attorney asked the judge to reduce the sentencing last week in a court filing.

Dianna Duran mug shot, from Dec. 18, 2015.

Dianna Duran mug shot, from Dec. 18, 2015.

On the subject of the weekly public appearances, Johnson wrote that the “condition is designed to be more akin to a continual public shaming than to anything related to her rehabilitation.”

In other words, the weekly appearances are just about punishment and not about “restorative justice.”

“The public appearances require Ms. Duran to travel the state of New Mexico over the next three years and repeatedly talk about her offenses, the shame, the public rebuke and her poor choices,” Johnson wrote.

She wants the provision stricken completely, but offers an “alternative” of one such speech per month.

Johnson also notes that “Ms. Duran has already been turned away from various organizations she has contacted or advised that she could not be scheduled until sometime later in the year.”

That’s not all. Johnson argues that the speaking appearances “will endanger Ms. Duran’s life.”

She cited comments on news articles online, including one on Yahoo and a KRQE-TV Facebook post.

“Clearly, there are numerous members of the public who would delight at the opportunity to inflict physical harm on Ms. Duran,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson said “the apology owed to the public has been given through the letter she composed and published in six different publications throughout the state of New Mexico.”

Duran’s letter was just over 100 words.

But there’s more. Johnson also requests that the community service time Ellington mandated be reduced by half: from 2,000 hours to just 1,000 hours. Johnson wrote that there just aren’t enough places near Duran’s home in rural Tularosa, New Mexico to complete the required community service.

Another of the myriad reasons why Johnson says Duran’s punishment should be reduced? Duran takes care of her grandchildren and she says the punishment will hurt the grandchildren most.

AG says no

The Attorney General’s office, which prosecuted Duran, filed their own motion this week and countered Duran’s arguments.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Courtesy photo.

Courtesy photo

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Courtesy photo.

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office countered and said it was neither “a public shaming” or dangerous.

The AG’s office dismissed the threats as not “credible” or “verifiable,” saying they were just “anonymous internet comments.”

“Duran provides no evidence of direct threats (such as by phone, email, or in person), nor does she state she has reported her fears to law enforcement,” the AG’s office filing states. “The cited comments are undoubtedly inappropriate, but this court should not interrupt its judgments on the basis of non-concrete and non-specific internet threats.”

As for the shaming, the AG’s office invoked one of New Mexico’s more famous residents (at least in certain circles): Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones.

The UFC fighter pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run accident in April, 2015. As part of his probation, Jones had to complete 72 speaking engagements in 18 months.

In the first few weeks, Jones reportedly spoke at two juvenile detention centers, a school and a martial arts studio.

The filing from the AG’s office cited an Albuquerque Journal story where Jones said the provision of the sentence allowed him to accept responsibility for his actions.

As for the hardship of doing 2,000 hours of community service, the AG’s office said it “roughly figures to spending each Saturday (or Sunday) performing community service.”

Travel is something others whose probation requires community service already do, the AG’s office argues, “and they are not absolved of completing community service.”

The AG’s office received criticism for the plea deal given to Duran; some wanted them to strip Duran of her pension, but the AG’s office contended  the law that many thought would provide for the pension forfeiture actually would not authorize that.

A more recent proposed law that would create the forfeiture failed to pass the House during the legislative session this year.The Senate never even got to hear it.

Judge’s decision

One thing that could decide things  is how many of the conditions Duran is opposing are ones imposed by the judge and not part of Balderas’ original plea deal.

The plea deal called for five years of supervised probation and Duran’s immediate resignation. It also forced Duran to pay full  restitution of $13,000.

Ellington added $14,000 more in fines because Duran violated some of the laws she was entrusted to uphold.

Duran’s team sought no jail time.

“The reason you are here is because you were trusted by the people of the state of New Mexico to enforce the campaign laws,” Ellington said at sentencing. “And that is a portion of the crime you committed.”

More from our story at the time:

He mentioned how people convicted crimes like DWI and battery must go through programs to “try to restore balance between the community and the individual.”

“But for this type of crime there is nothing in the law that’s equivalent,” Ellington said. “Today we are going to remedy that defect.”

Ellington called the weekly public appearances part of Duran’s rehabilitation process.

Johnson and other Duran supporters said Duran’s tarnished public reputation should be considered part of her punishment and that she only harmed herself.

Ellington rejected these arguments at the time in imposing the sentence.