June 14, 2016

Legislative staff must turn over docs in corruption case

A district judge ruled Tuesday that New Mexico legislative staff must turn over some documents to the Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office. The AG’s office sought documents related to a criminal case against former Senator Phil Griego.

PhilGriego SenateSecond Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless ruled that some documents and information requested by the AG’s office through subpoenas are susceptible to inspection after Legislative Council Service argued against it.

Loveless ruled that “LCS has no constitutional privilege to refuse to produce the materials.”

This comes after the AG’s office and LCS sparred over whether legislators and legislative staff should be subject to subpoenas requiring their testimony.

These documents include many documents related to the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, which itself investigated Phil Griego for the violations of Senate Rules and the state constitution that led to his resignation from the state senate in 2015. One document is the original ethics complaint.

Griego admitted to benefiting from a land deal approved by the Legislature.

LFC claimed legislators and staff are exempt from having those documents turned over to the AG’s office due to a provision in the New Mexico Constitution that protects lawmakers from legal impacts from any speech or votes they conduct during a legislative session.

Loveless disagreed with LCS’s reading of the law.

“The Speech or Debate Clause exists to ‘protect the integrity of the legislative process by insuring the independence of individual legislators.’” Loveless wrote. “Its purpose is neither to give the legislative branch supremacy nor to make its members ‘super-citizens, immune from criminal responsibility.’”

Loveless did grant an exception for some information based on attorney-client privilege.

“It is self-evident that communications between counsel and outside counsel for the Senate Investigative Subcommittee and between counsel and the subcommittee are privileged,” Loveless wrote.

The back-and-forth between the AG’s office and LCS began when prosecutors requested the information from LCS, which LCS countered with a denial, citing the protections in the state constitution. The AG’s office then countered with arguments that the LCS would be impeding the investigation and showing efforts against transparency.

Loveless set a deadline of June 22 to produce the documents that are not exempted from attorney client privilege.

Griego and his lawyers are due in court on July 5 for a preliminary hearing in Albuquerque.

Matthew Reichbach contributed to this report.