The Legislative Council’s attorney in the lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez is stepping down from the case, just a day after the state Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments on the case. The case is challenging Martinez’s line-item vetoes to a state budget passed last month by the state Legislature. Late Monday, Thomas Hnasko filed a motion to withdraw from the case, which lists Martinez and Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Duffy Rodriguez as defendants. Hnasko is recusing himself because of a “perceived conflict of interest” and a request from the Risk Management Division of the state General Services Department. The motion says other attorneys at Hnasko’s firm, Hinkle Shanor LLP, “have been retained by [Risk Management] to defend designated state entities and employees against monetary damage and equitable claims asserted against those entities and employees.”
In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, and House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said they believed there was no conflict.
A state district court judge set the trial date on corruption for a former state senator for October of 2017, and set aside three weeks to complete the trial. Former State senator Phil Griego faces multiple felonies related to a real estate deal from when he was in office. Second Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless also dismissed a lawyer representing the legislature Thursday afternoon, ruling information Hnasko obtained while interviewing the San Juan Democrat as part of a legislative ethics hearing would not be part of the discovery process for the trial. Legislative Council Service (LCS) attorney Thomas Hnasko requested to not be interviewed by prosecutors with the New Mexico Attorney General’s office, citing privileged information he obtained through previous interviews. Loveless said the information Hnasko obtained is protected by the opinion work product doctrine, essentially an attorney client privilege.
An Albuquerque district judge denied a motion by the administrative arm of the New Mexico Legislature to quash subpoenas of legislators to testify in the Phil Griego criminal case. Second Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless told lawyers with the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office and an attorney with the Legislative Council Service (LCS) that lawmakers can be subpoenaed but that they can still invoke a privilege to not testify if they choose. Loveless said the court would take it on a “circumstance by circumstance and a question by question” basis. The motion to quash the subpoenas came from the LCS when they argued that lawmakers are protected by a speech and debate clause which allows them to freely argue and vote on issues in Santa Fe without retaliation. Clara Moran, director of special prosecution with the AG said her office spoke with a number of lawmakers who said they are not represented by LCS and would likely not avoid testifying.