September 20, 2017

Mayoral candidate won’t say if he will award contracts to his current employer

Almost every election includes questions about donors’ intentions and if a winning candidate would give special treatment to one in exchange for the biggest contribution. But sometimes a candidate’s day job can raise questions about how he or she will conduct business as mayor—and if old employers will get preferential treatment.

Mayoral candidate Brian Colón, for example, works at the prominent Albuquerque legal firm Robles, Rael & Anaya P.C. The firm has received large city contracts in two different administrations and is staffed with a former city attorney, a former Bernalillo County attorney and a number of former assistant city attorneys. Robles, Rael & Anaya has decades of combined experience in city matters, perhaps the most of any law firm in the city.

Colón recently indicated in an email to NM Political Report that he would not cancel city legal contracts with his current employer if he were elected as mayor.

“I believe in the transparent, open and competitive bid process,” Colón wrote. “It is through that process Robles, Rael & Anaya, PC has been awarded the privilege to serve many governmental clients. As Mayor, I am committed to an open and robust competitive bid process for all city contracts, including legal services.”

Further, Colón said, he has not worked on any city contracts while with Robles, Rael & Anaya.

“Personally, I have not worked on any City of Albuquerque cases,” Colón wrote. “I have spent my legal career serving private clients.”

Colón was questioned online last month about his firm’s representation of former Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz when he was accused of illegally negotiating a contract with Taser International Inc. NM Political Report previously reported that Colón publicly distanced himself from Schultz, who is currently under investigation by the state Attorney General’s office.

But a contract between Colón’s law firm and the City of Albuquerque for legal services, lists Colón under a “Method of Payment” section of the contract.

Luis Robles, a named partner of the firm, told NM Political Report it is common practice for his firm to list all “or almost all” of the firm’s attorneys on contracts.

In an email to NM Political Report, Robles said the firm lists Colón on contracts “out of an abundance of caution” in case Colón is tasked with work associated with the contract.

Robles said he doesn’t think his firm’s contracts with the city and a hypothetical Colón administration would create either the perception of or an actual conflict of interest.

“It’s not because of politics, it’s because this is what we do,” Robles said of the city awarding his firm a number of municipal legal services contracts.

Robles represented former Albuquerque police officer Dominique Perez in a murder trial for killing homeless camper James Boyd. The jury failed to come to a verdict and the case was not retried. Special prosecutor for that case Randi McGinn spoke highly of Robles’ ability as an attorney. But she added that his firm and Colón could face some public scrutiny.

“Luis is a really fine attorney and does a great job on behalf of the city,” McGinn said. “The problem is, I don’t know what happens if [Colón] gets elected.”

McGinn admitted the city’s procurement code and bidding process aren’t her areas of expertise. But she said that if he were elected mayor, Colón could end up hurting Robles’ law firm.

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“It kind of screws [Robles] because it creates an appearance of impropriety if they assign all the government work to him,” McGinn said.

Likewise, McGinn said, the city could feel the damage if Colón is elected.

“If Brian wins the election, someone’s going to have to decide which is worse: somebody with less experience defending the city or having the public think the fix is in,” McGinn said.

McGinn is no stranger to avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest. Her husband is New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels. McGinn said to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Daniels recuses himself from hearing cases she brings to the high court.

McGinn also prosecuted the Perez case, and that of fellow APD officer Keith Sandy, after the judge declared that then-2nd Judicial District District Attorney Kari Brandenburg had a perceived conflict of interest because of her run-ins with the department.

The firm Robles, Rael & Anaya P.C. also has contracts with the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. Attorney General Hector Balderas worked for the firm from 2004 until his election  as State Auditor in 2007.

Robles, Rael & Anaya currently hold a contract for more than $400,000 with Balderas’ office for legal services in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and was hired to work on the Texas v. New Mexico case, in which Texas is suing New Mexico in the U.S. Supreme Court over disagreements on water rights.

In addition to contracting with the AG’s office, Robles said the firm has worked with Taos, Eddy and Union counties as well as the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments.

Robles described the bidding process, at least for Albuquerque, as “very competitive” and one his firm works hard at. Robles added that the experience of his firm “long predates” Colόn’s time there.

It’s worthwhile to raise the question of how Colón may deal with city legal contracts, McGinn said, but that it might be premature:“We should wait to see who wins the election before we decide whether there’s a problem or not.”