Legislators, others scheduled to testify in Griego corruption trial

Prosecutors with the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, a group of legislators, legislative support staff and one journalist are set to testify in the case against former New Mexico State Senator Phil Griego next week. According to a document filed by an attorney for the Legislative Council Service (LCS) earlier this week, 14 legislators and administrative staff who were called to testify are represented by Thomas Hnasko, counsel for LCS. Hnasko told NM Political Report that’s hard to say who if anyone he represents will decline to answer questions based on a speech and debate clause from state law that protects legislators from consequences on actions they make as legislators. He added that he doesn’t foresee many problems with lawmakers answering questions in court. “All legislators want to be as open as possible,” Hnasko said.

Judge sets hearing date in ex-Senator’s corruption trial

After weeks of recusals by judges, a district judge scheduled a preliminary hearing in the case against former New Mexico state Senator Phil Griego. District Court Judge Brett Loveless met briefly with lawyers from New Mexico Attorney General’s office and Griego’s attorney Monday afternoon to schedule the initial hearings leading up to Griego’s trial. Loveless and both parties agreed to begin the hearing process on July 5 in Albuquerque. Loveless said his schedule options are limited as he has other criminal cases already scheduled. Attorneys for the AG’s office requested that hearings that require witness testimony be scheduled in Santa Fe to avoid excess travel for witnesses.

3,000 more New Mexicans to lose behavioral health provider

Another Arizona-based behavioral health provider is leaving New Mexico, officials announced Friday. In the latest departure, 3,000 patients currently in substance abuse, mental health and other behavioral health programs—mostly in Northern New Mexico—will have to find a new provider in 90 days, according to a report in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican. The newspaper reported that Agave Health, Inc. is leaving the state, the third of five behavioral health providers from Arizona to leave the state since the shakeup in 2013. “Today, Agave is faced with an insurmountable obstacle, and after many months of undue financial hardship and the foreseen rate reductions in Medicaid rates, the board of directors has regretfully decided to close Agave Health,” Dr. Heath Kilgore, chief executive officer of Agave, and Jeff Jorde, president of the firm, said in a statement. Agave Health is the third of the five Arizona firms to leave New Mexico since the state signed contracts with them for more than $17 million.

Griego faces a tenth corruption charge

Former State Senator Phil Griego is facing another felony charge. A tenth charge appeared on a Tuesday filing from the Attorney General’s office in First Judicial District Court. This is in addition to the nine charges Griego already faced. The felony charge of unlawful interest in a public contract of more than $50 appeared on a filing outlining the charges against Griego. The land sale at the center of the criminal allegations also resulted in Griego’s resignation from the Senate last year.

Former AG disagrees with Balderas staffer walkout

A former New Mexico Attorney General said she disagreed with the way representatives from the current AG’s office reacted to an amendment to a bill aimed at increasing penalties for distributing, possessing and manufacturing child pornography. Former Attorney General Patricia Madrid told NM Political Report she isn’t in the business of criticizing other elected officials but that she doesn’t agree with how members of the office abruptly left a legislative committee hearing earlier this week. “I don’t think the answer is to storm out of a meeting,” Madrid said. At issue was a bill sponsored by Rep. Sarah Maestas Barnes, R-Albuquerque, and supported by Attorney General Hector Balderas. The bill would increase penalties for making, having and distributing child pornography.

Emails won’t be shielded, but defendants must disclose info in leaked email lawsuit

A federal magistrate judge Monday rejected a motion to protect hundreds of leaked emails from top staffers in the governor’s office from a high profile case among other measures. Plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit involving leaked emails from the 2010 campaign account of Gov. Susana Martinez will now also be able to conduct discovery on the defendants. U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephan Vidmar limited the discovery to just a handful of issues: what emails were intercepted, who intercepted the emails, who publicly disclosed the intercepted emails and why they publicly disclosed them. The judge made rulings against motions by both sides. The developments mark the latest fallout in one of the longest ongoing scandals in Martinez’s governorship.

Lawsuit: $14 million in new Medicaid fraud ignored in botched behavioral health audits

A former investigator for one of the country’s biggest health managed care providers is accusing that company of profiting from turning a blind eye to fraud against the state. Karen Clark, who worked as a senior investigator for a branch of UnitedHealth Group from October 2011 through April 2012, filed a lawsuit accusing Optum Behavioral Health Solutions of giving Medicaid payments to reimburse nearly $14 million in false claims by nine health providers. Clark also alleges that OptumHealth took home 28 percent of the wrongly reimbursed Medicaid claims.

OptumHealth is the subsidiary of UnitedHealth that manages New Mexico’s Medicaid dollars. Clark faults OptumHealth of never having a proper system in place to perform her chief task—catching Medicaid fraud. “Optum was not set up to detect the fraud claims submitted by providers,” Clark’s attorney, Maureen Sanders, told NM Political Report.

AG wants more sunshine for medical pot program

New Mexico’s Attorney General is advocating for the state to disclose names of medical marijuana producers to the public. In a Dec. 31 letter written to state Medical Cannabis Program Patient Services Manager Andrea Sundberg, Attorney General Hector Balderas notes the Health Department’s proposal to disclose producers while keeping applications for personal production licenses confidential and pending non-profit producer applications private until the end of the application period. The Health Department recently agreed to allow the public to see medical marijuana producer licenses with those caveats. “We believe that this regulation not only exceeds the Department of Health’s statutory authority to promulgate rules, but also circumvents the mandates and intent of the IPRA,” Balderas writes.

NM Supreme Court hears ‘aid in dying’ arguments

The New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether or not the state should allow some medical patients a right to “aid in dying” on Monday morning. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, represented by private attorney Laura Schauer Ives, argued in favor of allowing terminally ill patients, who are deemed mentally competent, the right to seek medication from physicians that would end their respective lives. In a written statement from the ACLU-NM, Schauer Ives said a patient’s right to “aid in dying” is “a fundamental right under our state constitution.”

“As we await the court’s final opinion on this issue, our thoughts are with the many New Mexicans living with terminal illness who are watching this case to see if they will have access to aid in dying if or when they need it,” Schauer Ives said. Scott Fuqua, who represented the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, argued that it should be the Legislature, not the courts, who decides whether it is legal for a patient to end their own life in some circumstances. Fuqua told justices the first question the court should address is whether or not it is “a fundamental right” for a terminally ill patient to end his or her life.

Sen. who resigned after ethics scandal still spending campaign cash

One former state senator—who resigned this year after violating ethics laws—continued to spend money raised by his campaign committee according to his most recent campaign finance report. October 13 marked the latest deadline for political candidates to report any expenditures made from or donations made to their campaigns from April 7 to Oct. 5. According to the report filed with the New Mexico Secretary of State by former State Senator Phil Griego, his campaign spent $6,000 on constituent meetings, car repairs and rent for office space since Griego resigned amid controversy in March of this year during the legislative session. One watchdog who has pushed for stronger ethics laws in New Mexico says the spending is not allowed.