March 8, 2016

Dem with controversial past files for State House seat

The New Mexico House of Representatives.

Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, has a primary challenger, and he comes with a controversial past.

The New Mexico House of Representatives.

The New Mexico House of Representatives.

Chris Berkheimer, a Democrat with ties to former Gov. Bill Richardson, is aiming for her seat. Trujillo hasn’t filed yet, but is expected to before the end of the day.

Richardson appointed Berkheimer to judgeship for the Workers Compensation Administration in 2007. Berkheimer didn’t last long in the position.

That same year, Berkheimer was put on leave for allegedly making sexual advances to an injured female worker during mediation. Berkheimer’s conduct, which was caught on video, prompted the state Supreme Court in 2009 to suspend his law license for up to three years.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, a document from a hearing committee looking into Berkheimer’s allegations at the time states that he “made aggressive, inappropriate proposals of a sexual nature to (the woman), touched her inappropriately and requested that she accompany him to a bar and/or a hotel. He went with her outside the hearing room and continued to make inappropriate proposals.”

Berkheimer’s version of the story at the time denied any wrongdoing. Instead, he said that the woman invited him to feel screws in her wrist and that he hit her knee on accident when he attempted to grab his briefcase.

Berkheimer responded to questions from NM Political Report with a statement.

“Responding to your question about the incident at Worker’s Comp nine years ago, I have apologized to everyone I needed to apologize to for the situation,” he said. “I am moving on with my life and I hope that others, especially voters (11,500 of whom voted for me in 2004), are moving on with theirs too.”

“Finally, I have PTSD from my service as an artilleryman in Desert Storm. It leads to any number of issues,” Berkheimer continued. “I’m tired after 25 years having this condition watching Combat Veterans get abused by the system. I have experienced it personally and have heard hundreds of stories from Vets of all generations who have gone through similar experiences.”

Berkheimer’s reference to 2004 was in a race against then-Senator Diane Snyder in Senate District 15. He lost 11,228 votes to 10,105 votes in the general election.

The alleged sexual harassment incident came just six days into Berkheimer’s role as a judge in the Worker’s Compensation Administration. Richardson appointed Berkheimer to that position, as well as to the position of mediator in the same agency, which Berkheimer served for a few years before.

Under Richardson, Berkheimer also worked for the state Office of Homeland Security. In the ‘90s, Berkheimer worked as a national security aide to Richardson when he was a congressman.

As of this posting, no Republican filed to run for the position.