September 19, 2016

Lawmaker says AG is retaliating by trying to kick her off case

Andy Lyman

Lisa Torraco


Andy Lyman

Lisa Torraco

A New Mexico state lawmaker is going head to head with the state Attorney General in her private capacity as an attorney. And she thinks it relates back to something from the most recent state legislative session.

The Attorney General’s office sought to remove State Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, from a case in 2nd Judicial District Court.

Torraco represents Tyler Danzer in a case where Attorney General Hector Balderas charged Danzer with child solicitation and tampering with evidence. The Attorney General’s office filed a motion last week to remove Torraco from the case, arguing she has a conflict of interest after she advised Danzer to close his email account. Danzer was arrested after he allegedly emailed law enforcement officials posing as a 12-year-old girl.

Torraco admits that she told her client to close his email account but not for the purpose of tampering with evidence. She said Danzer was worried about further sting operations against him.

“So I tell him, ‘Get off the internet, don’t email anybody, close your account,’” Torraco said. “That is the same thing the judge is going to order anyway.”

Torraco said there’s “no question” the Attorney General’s office is retaliating against her after she criticized legislation pushed by the office last February. She said she is suspicious of the timing by the Attorney General’s office, which asked to remove Torraco just weeks before election day.

“They’re using this to hurt me in my election,” Torraco told NM Political Report.

During the 2016 legislative session, Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, sponsored a bill to toughen penalties for child pornography. The bill was highly debated by both Democrats and Republicans.

Torraco was one of the more vocal critics of the bill and tried to amend the legislation to close at least one loophole that would implicate teenagers who send lewd photos to one another.

During a heated committee meeting, prosecutors walked out in the middle of their testimony after Torraco successfully amended the law.

Later in the session, when the bill made it to the Senate floor, Torraco led the charge in keeping Attorney General prosecutors off the floor as expert witnesses, a rarity in the Legislature. Torraco even said in February that she worried her opposition to the bill would result in political retaliation.

“The problem I have if I vote against it here, all the bloggers and my election opponent will say I voted against child exploitation,” Torraco said.

Toracco voted in favor of the bill, which eventually contained a “sexting” provision.

In an attempt to clear her client’s evidence tampering charge, Torraco signed an affidavit saying she advised her client to close his email account. She also requested the two charges be severed and that she only represent Danzer on the solicitation charge. She would potentially act as a defense witness regarding the tampering charge.

The Attorney General’s office filed a request to keep the two charges together and have Torraco removed from the case. Torraco told District Judge Briana Zamora that she wouldn’t have a problem walking away from the case but that her client does not want a different attorney. Torraco also argued that forcing her off the case would violate Danzer’s constitutional right to pick his own counsel.

In court on Monday afternoon Torraco and her co-counsel Liane Kerr argued that the Balderas’ office is trying to get extra media attention on a case that doesn’t warrant it. Kerr called the attention by reporters a “dog and pony show” and a “media circus.”

In response to the Attorney General’s request to oust Torraco, Kerr and Torraco filed a motion to have the Balderas’ office removed from the case.

Torraco told Zamora that Danzer doesn’t want to switch lawyers after a year of working with Toracco.

“He trusts me and he knows I have his best interest at heart,” Torraco said.

A spokesman for the Attorney General’s office maintains that prosecutors do not hold a grudge against Torraco and are acting in the name of justice.

“The decision made by the Office to file the motion regarding Ms. Torraco’s conflict, was to protect the Defendant’s right to a fair trial, as well as to preserve the integrity of any trial conviction,” AG spokesman James Hallinan said.

Danzer was arrested for solicitation in May 2015 after the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s office set up a sting operation online. A year later, the Attorney General’s office presented the two charges against him.

Zamora opted not to rule from the bench and said she would issue a written order by the end of the week.