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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

NM Appeals Court Candidate Dennis W. Montoya Charged With Multiple Acts of Professional Misconduct

Dennis Rio Rancho Attorney Dennis W. Montoya, a candidate for New Mexico Appeals Court Position 2 in the Democratic primary, has been charged with multiple acts of professional misconduct by the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico. Click to read the complete text of the Specification of Charges (pdf).

Montoya is challenging current Appeals Court Judge Linda Vanzi in the primary contest. There are no Republican challengers in the general election, so whoever wins the primary will hold the judgeship.

The charges were filed on April 30 and revealed late yesterday. Montoya has said he will continue his campaign. He has 20 days to respond to the charges.

Montoya Has Previous Sanctions, Could Face Disbarment
The charges include very serious allegations of lying to a court, failing to account for client money and engaging in fraud and deceit. The Disciplinary Board also said there was a "pattern of misconduct" that "displayed a selfish and dishonest motive."

This is a very big deal. If the charges stand against Montoya, the Disciplinary Board could recommend punishments ranging from a reprimand to a fine to disbarment. If he is disbarred, Montoya would be ineligible to continue running for the Appeals Court Judge position, not to mention having his law career and reputation destroyed. 

Montoya's record was already tarnished by several run-ins with federal judges that resulted in his being sanctioned, fined and having his legal ethics and competency as a lawyer questioned. He also recently got into a shouting match with a Metropolitan Court judge.

The Charges
The charges are related to legal actions Montoya took after a one-vehicle accident near Tucumcari resulted in the death of oil rig worker Cody Utley in November 2002.

According to a report in the Albuquerque Journal,

Montoya represented Utley's girlfriend Tresa Kosec, their son and Kosec's daughter from a prior relationship in various actions. They included a life insurance claim, a workers compensation claim and filing a lawsuit alleging there was a defective tire on the pickup truck Utley was driving.

According to the charges, Montoya collected funds from Codey Utley's life insurance proceeds, a worker's compensation settlement and a wrongful death suit. Tresa Kosec was not married to Cody Utley. Tresa had a daughter from a previous relationship and had a son, Thomas, with Cody. Although the son was the only party legally entitled to inherit the funds in question, all the money was paid to Kosec personally, and no guardian was appointed for the son. Another settlement, of a suit against Bridgestone tires and the seller of the tires, was in the amount of $550,000. In this settlement, for the first time, Montoya sought the appointment of a guardian for the son.

The wrongful death suit was assigned to Judge Linda Vanzi, at the time a District Court Judge. Vanzi okayed Kathleen Oakey, Esq. to serve as the son's guardian. As a result of Oakey's investigation, a hearing was held before Judge Vanzi and the proceeds from the Bridgestone settlement, along with the balance of funds held by Montoya in connection with the Utley matter, were deposited in the Court Registry. The Court also directed Oakey to pursue any claims she found to be viable on the son's behalf as a result of the conduct and actions of Montoya in the handling of claims arising from Utley's death.

Nine Counts
District Court Judge Linda Vanzi Vanzi then reported Montoya's alleged misconduct to the Disciplinary Board in January 2008, resulting in the charges of nine counts of misconduct brought last week. The counts are listed under headings as follows:

  • Count I: Fee Agreements
  • Count II: Misrepresentations to Probate Court
  • Count III: Misrepresentation to Worker's Compensation Court
  • Count IV: Misrepresentations in the Wrongful Death Suit
  • Count V: Misrepresentations to the Guardian Ad Litem
  • Count VI: Conflict of Interest
  • Count VII: False Statements; Aiding Unauthorized Practice of Law
  • Count VIII: Failure to Provide Adequate Information to Client
  • Count IX: Failure to Account for Funds

According to the Albuquerque Journal article, the charges include:

  • Montoya knowingly made false statements to and misled the Probate Court in Farmington and the Workers Compensation Court, claiming Utley and Kosec were married when they were not and that Kosec's daughter was Utley's child.
  • Montoya, in the wrongful death lawsuits over Utley's death, knowingly made false statements and engaged in conduct involving fraud, deceit, dishonesty and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
  • Montoya made false statements to the court-appointed guardian of Utley's child.
  • Montoya had a conflict of interest in representing Utley's girlfriend and their child, who legally was sole heir to Utley's estate.
  • Montoya failed to account for funds received from settlements made on behalf of Kosec and the two children and failed to safeguard his clients' funds.

Montoya Disqualfied from Public Campaign Financing
You may recall that the New Mexico Secretary of State recently affirmed a hearing officer's ruling that disqualified Dennis W. Montoya from receiving public funding in his campaign for Appeals Court Judge. Click for the affirmation letter and hearing officer's report (pdf). Previous to the hearing, Secretary of State Mary Herrera had decided that Montoya didn't qualify because he contributed more "seed money" to his campaign than candidates are allowed under the rules for public financing. Herrera also stated that Montoya violated another section of the campaign law that states candidates can't accept $500 or more or spend $500 or more and still qualify.

Montoya appealed the Secretary of State's decision to disqualify him for public financing to the District Court, and that hearing is set for this Thursday.

May 5, 2010 at 02:59 PM in 2010 Judicial Races, Legal Issues | Permalink

Comments

He doesn't have a leg to stand on. Dennis-get out of the race!

Posted by: James | May 5, 2010 8:14:31 PM

Wake up legislators. We need some strengthened criteria for who can run for appeals court seats. Why should nominees be screened very carefully but someone like Montoya can run with no real qualifications for the job and a horrible record.

Posted by: Esq. | May 5, 2010 9:27:01 PM

@James: The ballots have already been printed, so Montoya's name is on the ballot regardless. IMHO, it is unlikely that Montoya would withdraw from his race in any event. Clearly, Montoya is running to punish Judge Vanzi for complaining about him to the D-Board. I highly doubt that he would withdraw for any reason.

Posted by: Proud Democrat | May 6, 2010 11:19:54 AM

Disbar Montoya!

Posted by: Justice Now | May 6, 2010 12:13:24 PM

@Justice Now: That works for me!

I'd put him in the stocks, too. Maybe he should be drawn and quartered? Whoa!

I say, give Montoya a fair hearing, then disbar him! /snark

Posted by: Proud Democrat | May 6, 2010 8:01:04 PM

I've dealt with him personally and he is a snake. With the same smile you see in this picture, he tells you a story you "want" to hear. When things don't go his way, the "other" face shows. It's fairly ugly and the thought of him as a judge frankly scares the heck out of me.

Posted by: Dealt with personally | May 25, 2010 10:58:24 AM