July 10, 2017

Mayoral hopeful turns to state high court after suit dismissed

Joe Gratz


An Albuquerque mayoral hopeful who sued the city and said she was wrongfully disqualified from the ballot is now taking her case to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Stella Padilla sued the city, specifically naming City Clerk Natalie Howard, in an attempt to get her name on the city ballot this October. This came after Howard ruled Padilla did not have enough signatures to make the mayoral ballot.[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The state’s best political coverage.

[/perfectpullquote]Last week, district judge Nancy Franchini ruled Padilla could not sue to reinstate qualifying petition signatures. Franchini ruled to dismiss the lawsuit, agreeing with city attorneys that only petition signers could file such a suit.

Now Padilla and her lawyer, Blair Dunn, are appealing the ruling to the state’s high court.

Dunn filed a petition Monday afternoon, asking the court to overturn Franchini’s dismissal as soon as possible, arguing there is only about three months left before the election.

Dunn cited an Albuquerque Journal story which quotes Franchini saying “It breaks my heart, Ms. Padilla. I would like to rule in your favor, but I can’t.”

“Judge Franchini’s heart need not have broken,” Dunn wrote in the petition.

While the case was dismissed on a technicality, Dunn agreed with the court and city attorneys that the statute is aimed at petition signers to reinstate their own signatures and not candidates, but “that is where the analysis and the logic of the City Clerk and the Court ended.”

Dunn also argued there is no provision to allow someone like Padilla to challenge the clerk’s office other than encouraging individuals signers to file a lawsuit.

“What’s the remedy for her?” Dunn asked rhetorically in an interview with NM Political Report, adding that the notion that Padilla would have to get 200 people to ask for their signatures to be reinstated is “absurd.”

City of Albuquerque officials did not respond to a request for comment before press time.

The lawsuit got more contentious after Howard accused Padilla’s daughter, Vanessa Benavidez, of harassment and the city filed a court request barring anyone with Padilla’s campaign from contacting the city clerk.

Dunn in turn asked the court to dismiss the protective order and said he was prepared to sue the city in federal court for violating Benavidez’s right to free speech.

Dunn told NM Political Report he’s beginning to wonder if the city is actively trying to keep Padilla off the ballot.

“I still don’t understand why the city is so adamant about fighting this out and refusing to look at the evidence,” Dunn said.