July 1, 2022

Otero County Commission denies Couy Griffin legal help in personal lawsuit

Couy Griffin at a Trump rally on Jan. 6, 2021, before the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

On Friday, the Otero County Commission voted against providing legal counsel for controversial Commissioner Couy Griffin. Griffin himself did not vote on the issue but the other two commissioners voted against approving county-provided legal representation for Griffin in a lawsuit against him filed in state district court.   

Griffin has gained national attention, first for leading an organization in support of former President Donald Trump called Cowboys for Trump. Griffin again gained national attention for climbing over barricades during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, an incident that would ultimately lead to a misdemeanor conviction of entering a federally restricted area. Griffin was acquitted of a disorderly conduct charge. Earlier this year, three people filed a lawsuit in a Santa Fe state district court, asking a judge to remove Griffin from office. 

In the time since the suit was filed, Griffin’s lawyer withdrew from the case, leaving Griffin to represent himself.  The lawsuit argues that under the U.S. Constitution, Griffin should be disqualified from holding public office. 

“After taking his oath, [Griffin] engaged in an insurrection against the Government and Constitution of the United States and aided and comforted insurrectionists,” the lawsuit reads. “[Griffin] is therefore disqualified from federal and state office under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The section of the Constitution the lawsuit references states:

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

Throughout Friday’s commission meeting, both Commissioner Vickie Marquardt and County Attorney R.B. Nichols repeatedly tried to explain to Griffin that the county could not legally provide legal counsel for Griffin since he was not representing the county on Jan. 6.

Nichols told Griffin during Friday’s meeting that state law does not include a provision that allows for legal representation for the type of suit filed against Griffin.  

“Even if there was, there would not be representation coverage because it was not in the official scope of duties of a commissioner,” Nichols said. 

Marquardt said she couldn’t see a way the county commission could legally pay for Griffin’s legal defense. 

“I don’t feel like we can legally do this, and support any representation just because of the anti-donation clause and the other things that have been written out in these legal opinions that we’ve gotten,” Marquardt said. 

Griffin spent much of the 30-minute meeting arguing his case, saying that “the platform’s the same” regardless of whether he was at the Capitol on behalf of the County Commission or Cowboys for Trump and that the lawsuit against him is a small part of a bigger effort to “remove anybody that will stand up to the state government and the federal government.” 

At times Griffin brought up unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and at one point garnered laughs and groans from the audience when he mentioned Marxism and abortion rights. 

“There’s no greater time than right now to stand together and stand united and stand strong,” Griffin said. “Because if we don’t, these tyrannical Marxists that want to kill babies by supporting abortion that infringes on every right that we have, every freedom that we have. They’re coming at us.”

Griffin doubled down on his anti-abortion rhetoric when Denise Lang-Brown, a member of the public, called Griffin a  “small man” for asking taxpayers to foot his legal bill. Lang-Brown also criticized Griffin for previously stating that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

Griffin responded by accusing Democrats of being more concerned about that comment than outlawing abortion. 

“You know what I’d like to say, Denise? It’s too bad that Democrats don’t care more about dead babies than they do dead Democrats,” Griffin said. 

In his closing speech, Griffin seemed to criticize the separation of the branches of government and the limited scope of county commissions. 

“As long as we always cow down to the role and scope of your position and you have to stay inside this box, and you can’t do anything outside of the box or you’re gonna get sued, again, it’s a system of control,” Griffin said. “And unfortunately, it’s a control through the legal channels that is led again by a bunch of bar-certified attorneys that just continue to lead us down the road that we lose everything, we lose our freedom, lose our liberty, and we might lose leaders that are willing to step up the way I am and speak out against it.”

The meeting came on the heels of a New Mexico Supreme Court order for the Otero County Commission to certify the county’s primary election results. The meeting also comes with the backdrop of congressional Jan. 6 hearings with testimony alleging that Trump encouraged the attack on the Capitol. But Griffin said he was also disappointed with the former president and conservative news media for not supporting Griffin more. 

“It really feels like I’ve been fed to the wolves in a lot of ways,” Griffin said. 

The next hearing in the suit against Griffin is in August, but regardless of the outcome, Griffin’s term ends at the end of the year and he was term-limited to be unable to run this cycle.