ACLU suit seeks to end testing ‘gag rule’

A lawsuit challenges a ban on “disparaging” school tests by public education students that has been called a “gag rule” in the past. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the lawsuit in First Judicial District Court Wednesday morning on behalf of six public schools teachers and one parent of a student in public schools. A regulation from the state Public Education Department (PED) says that public education employees cannot “disparage or diminish the significance, importance or use of standardized tests.” Penalties for violating the provision include “suspension or revocation of a person’s educator or administrator licensure or other PED license.”

The ACLU of New Mexico says that this runs counter to the rights of teachers and students under the New Mexico Constitution. The suit seeks an injunction to stop the enforcement of the rule. “The Public Education Department can’t enact sweeping restrictions intended to intimidate teachers and silence viewpoints that they don’t like,” ACLU of New Mexico Staff Attorney Maria Sanchez said in a statement.

Eighth time’s the charm: Finally a judge, hearing date for Griego case

After a spate of recusals by judges, a district court judge finally accepted the corruption case involving a former state Senator. District Court Judge Sarah Singleton will take the case of Phil Griego, who is charged with ten counts related to corruption while he was in office. Griego resigned from the Senate last year because of a land deal. The judge set an initial hearing for April 4 at 8:15 a.m. according to nmcourts.gov.

Singleton was the eighth judge to be assigned the case; the previous seven recused themselves from the case. Since NM Political Report last wrote about the case on Thursday, two additional judges—Raymond Ortiz and Francis Mathew—recused themselves.

Our Dianna Duran coverage from filing of charges to guilty plea

A stream of Dianna Duran news swept the state late last week; she resigned as Secretary of State late Thursday but the news didn’t break until after 1:00 a.m. on Friday. Hours later, she appeared in court and pleaded guilty to six charges, including two felonies. The resignation wasn’t exactly unexpected; calls for her resignation came almost as soon as Attorney General announced 64 charges (another charge of identity theft was added later) in late August. She faced possible impeachment by the House of Representatives. Here are all of the stories that New Mexico Political Report wrote about Duran’s case since August.

Impeachment panel postponed after Duran’s resignation

Following the resignation of Dianna Duran the House Special Investigatory Committee looking into her impeachment will not meet on Tuesday as regularly scheduled. The panel was investigating whether or not the House should look into impeachment of Duran for the multiple charges she faced. Duran pleaded guilty to six charges, including two felonies, on Friday. Hours earlier, Duran resigned from office. Speaker of the House Don Tripp, R-Socorro, also issued a statement where he addressed the need for the panel—or lack thereof now that Duran is no longer in office.

After guilty plea, Duran defends ‘tremendous’ public career

After pleading guilty to two criminal felonies and four misdemeanors, Dianna Duran spoke to reporters about her integrity in 36 years as an elected New Mexico official. “I am truly, truly honored to have served New Mexicans and I want them to know that none of this, none of this that has been going on for the past few months has anything to do with the integrity of the office and the office that New Mexicans now have as their Secretary of State’s office,” she said to a crowd of reporters outside the Santa Fe District Court minutes after pleading guilty. Again and again, Duran said the criminal violations she pleaded guilty to—which led to her resignation as Secretary of State late Thursday night—only happened in her personal life and not in her professional capacity. Duran pleaded guilty to embezzlement and money laundering following charges from Attorney General Hector Balderas that she used campaign money for personal use. Duran’s plea deal includes five years of probation and allows her to keep her government pension.

Judge grants delay, Duran hearing won’t happen until December

New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s attorney was granted some extra time in the criminal case against her client on Thursday. First Judicial District Court Judge Glenn Ellington granted an extension for Duran’s attorney Erlinda Johnson after she asked the court for another 60 days to comb through documents related to the case. Johnson has not yet responded to New Mexico Political Report’s requests for comment. Any comment will be added when it is received. A spokesman for the Attorney General said the office would not be releasing a statement regarding the extension, but did say the office would proceed with business as usual.

AGO fires back at Duran’s request for more time to prepare

Earlier this week, New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s attorney filed a request to extend court deadlines, saying preparing for an upcoming hearing will be overwhelming to her and her client. A response from the Attorney General’s office  argued that the request was unnecessary and would harm Duran’s right to a speedy trial. Attorney Erlinda Johnson is representing Duran in a case that alleges a long list of money laundering and fraud charges related to moving campaign funds to personal accounts. Johnson wrote in her request that she needs more time to comb through the evidence that the New Mexico Attorney General’s office presented to the court. She argued that the Attorney General’s office has not made all of the documents available for discovery.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

SOS pleads not guilty to fraud, money laundering

Secretary of State Dianna Duran pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 64 counts related to using campaign finance money for her personal use, including fraud and money laundering charges. Duran appeared in person in district court in Santa Fe. She was released on her own recognizance. The courtroom was mostly empty, with a crowd of about 15 people, mostly media, watching from monitors in the hallway. Related: House approves funds for special committee to look into impeachment of Duran.

State ordered to pay legal fees to union in open records case

A Santa Fe district judge’s ruling on Wednesday afternoon awarded an education group additional money in a lawsuit against the state’s Public Education Department. The ruling comes after First Judicial District Judge Sarah Singleton awarded damages to National Education Association New Mexico (NEA-NM) after the group accused PED of violating the Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA. In court on Wednesday, Singleton awarded the group money for legal fees, totaling $14,071.31 according to a press release by NEA-NM following the decision. In a press release sent out before the hearing, NEA said the judge’s determination would set a precedent on who is actually able to sue over public records violations. “Is our government meant to be only ‘open’ for the wealthy who can afford to pay their own legal expenses to obtain Court rulings against agencies who fail to comply with the Inspection of Public Records Act?” NEA-NM President Betty Paterson asked.