March 16, 2017

State lawmaker settles lawsuit for $260,000

A New Mexico lawmaker from Truth or Consequences agreed to settle a civil lawsuit alleging her negligence as an employer for $260,000.

Republican state Rep. Rebecca Dow, who was elected last November, was accused of negligence when she hired and then promoted Alejandro Hernandez to work with children. Dow owns and operates both the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County and AppleTree Educational Center. While working for the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County, Hernandez had unlawful sexual conduct with two boys under his care. Hernandez is currently in jail for those crimes.

The parents of one child then sued Dow, two of her childcare businesses and one of her directors for not properly vetting Hernandez before hiring him, and then not reprimanding him after after a previous incident involving another child.

During a phone hearing on March 2, defense and plaintiff’s attorneys, an attorney representing the child and a Sierra County judge discussed the settlement amount and how it would be structured.

From the Committee to elect Rebecca Dow

NM Political Report received audio of the hour-long hearing via an open records request with the 7th Judicial District Court.

Attorney fees and court costs will consume about $90,000, leaving the child with about $160,000 that will be paid out in installments. Attorney Mark Filosa, who represented the boy’s parents, said he was eager to secure at least part of the settlement.

“I’m most anxious to get this young man counseling,” Filosa said at the hearing.

The parents also waived the right to file further claims against Dow or her two businesses, the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra County and AppleTree Educational Center.

The family filed its lawsuit last year, about two months after Hernandez was sentenced to six years in prison for criminal sexual convictions.

Filosa declined to comment on the settlement to NM Political Report.

Theresa Parrish, Dow’s attorney, also declined to comment.

The suit alleged that Hernandez was hired without proper vetting and was later promoted to a position allowing him isolated contact with minors, even after a teenager accused him of asking an inappropriate and explicit question.

The lawsuit states Dow advocated for Hernandez’s promotion to two others on an interview panel despite a written warning in his file for inappropriate behavior. According to the original complaint against her, Dow had also tried to persuade the mother involved in the lawsuit, an employee of AppleTree, not to sue. Instead, Dow offered to help pay the family’s expenses.

Last October, NM Political Report spoke with the boy’s parents on the condition of anonymity.

Both the mother and father said they were not motivated by money to file the lawsuit.

Albuquerque attorney Will Ferguson previously told NM Political Report that lawsuits like this one, involving settlements and personal injury, can have a positive effect on future hires. After seeing news of a lawsuit like this one, employers are likely to “look a little harder at the next guy they hire.”

A series of hearings and court filings ultimately led to mediation where the parties agreed to settle, according to audio of the March 2 hearing.

Sierra County District Judge Kevin Sweazea approved the settlement agreement, noting the terms are “in the best interest of the minor.”