Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Important Victory: Rep. Moe Maestas' Bill to Provide Treatment for Nonviolent Drug Offenders Passes House

Moemaestas120 Nonviolent drug offenders would have the opportunity to receive treatment rather than incarceration under legislation sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas (D-Albuquerque). The legislation seeks to reduce repeat offenses by persons with substance abuse disorders by treating the condition of drug addiction rather than the act of drug possession. The measure, HB 178a, passed the House of Representatives today with a vote of 34-31.

"This bill will give judges the authority to focus on the treatment of nonviolent drug offenders as opposed to incarceration," Rep. Maestas said in a statement released today. "It would alleviate an already overburdened court system by focusing on the treatment of the nonviolent offender. This attempts to end recidivism and reduce drug addiction and hence, the property crimes it creates. Additionally, it has a potential of saving the state $22 million."

The bill was originally defeated in the House by a margin of 37-33 on Friday but -- thankfully -- gained new life when it was brought up for reconsideration today. Make no mistake about it. If this bill becomes law it would represent a major policy and very positive change in the "war on drugs" in New Mexico -- one that seeks to help non-violent offenders get a second chance in life if they earn it.

I think it's very important that we all thank Rep. Moe Maestas for this one. His views on dealing with the ramifications of drug abuse and addiction in a compassionate, productive and logical fashion are enlightened and practical. It takes guts to be out front on an issue like this -- one that's so fraught with myth and fear -- and I think Moe did it with an abundance of smarts and dedication. I think we should also express appreciation to everyone who vote for this bill. And it's essential that we contact our Senators to urge them to take the bill up and pass it, this year.

According to a statement released by House leadership, HB 178a creates a Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act to reduce the number of possession convictions by diverting misdemeanor and 4th degree felony offenders to treatment. It allows the courts to order an assessment of the person by a qualified treatment professional for the purpose of determining the person’s need for treatment and making recommendations for an appropriate treatment plan.

The court may, after a hearing and input from the state, refer the person to a substance abuse treatment program for a period of eighteen months or less. If the offender successfully completes the program, the court shall dismiss with prejudice the criminal proceedings against the person. The person may apply for an order sealing the record. The court may reinstate the criminal proceedings if the offender violates the terms and conditions of participation in the program.

The bill does not include drug traffickers.

According to the New Mexico Drug Policy Alliance, the state spent $22 million in 2007 to incarcerate or give probation sentences to nonviolent drug possession offenders.

February 16, 2010 at 08:57 PM in Addiction, Drugs, Alcohol, Justice, Law Enforcement, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Civil Rights Suit Secures Essential Mental Health Care for Detainees in Dona Ana County

The ACLU of New Mexico (ACLU-NM) and Disability Rights New Mexico (DRNM) settled their lawsuit against the Doña Ana County Detention Center (DACDC), securing essential mental health services for detainees, according to a statement released by the organizations. The settlement marks the end of a lawsuit brought as a class action by detainees who alleged that DACDC failed to provide adequate treatment for inmates with mental health disabilities. Under the terms of the settlement, DACDC will improve its intake screening process and provision of treatment, and it will modify segregation cell use as well as seclusion and restraint procedures to comply with constitutional standards and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We are very pleased that Doña Ana County has agreed to take these important steps towards providing detainees with adequate mental health care,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson in a written statement. “These reforms will go a long way towards ensuring that detainees with mental disabilities are diagnosed and given proper care. We expect these changes to make the Doña Ana County Detention Center a safer and healthier facility.”

The settlement agreement mandates that DACDC implement standard screening procedures in its intake process in order to identify at the outset which detainees require treatment for mental disabilities. This will ensure that detainees receive immediate attention and avoid a deterioration of their condition that could put themselves, security staff and other detainees at risk. The agreement also requires that detainees with significant mental health disabilities be housed in a specialized mental health unit within the detention center and that they be supervised by corrections officers who have undergone special training regarding mental health issues.

A key achievement of the settlement was an assurance that placement in isolation cells — used inappropriately throughout the nation when dealing with detainees or inmates with mental disabilities — will not be used for detainees with mental disabilities unless all other less restrictive options have been exhausted. In addition, when physical restraint becomes necessary, corrections officers will only hold detainees until a trained medical professional is able to diagnose and administer treatment.

“Disability Rights New Mexico has been responding to concerns about inadequate mental health care in DACDC since 2004,” said Nancy Koenigsberg, DRNM Legal Director. “DACDC is now required to maintain an adequate level of mental health services staffing. It also has a continuum of care of mental health services in the facility, as well as provisions for transferring detainees to acute care out of the facility when clinically indicated. These are very important services for detainees with mental disabilities. We also hope this may help with recidivism.”

A neutral expert in prison mental health care will be agreed upon by both parties and contracted to monitor and evaluate DACDC progress in the implementation of these reforms over the next two years. DRNM will oversee the monitoring process.

ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Brendan Egan, Disability Rights New Mexico Attorneys Nancy Koenigsberg and Tim Gardner, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law and ACLU-NM Cooperating Attorneys George Bach, Peter Cubra and Michael Lilley represented the plaintiffs in this case.

February 12, 2010 at 10:05 AM in Civil Liberties, Justice, Las Cruces, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Ray Powell Commends AG King for Lawsuit to Stop White Peak

Powell discusses problems with Pat Lyons' land swap policies

State Land Commissioner Pat Lyons has been at the center of controversy for his decision to trade away White Peak state lands in northern New Mexico. Sportsmen, elected officials, former State Land Commissioner Ray Powell and leaders from northern New Mexico communities have been critical of the exchange.

Lyons has been under investigation by both the New Mexico Attorney General and New Mexico State Auditor regarding the process for selling, exchanging, and leasing of trust lands. Yesterday, Attorney General Gary King sued the State Land Office in the New Mexico Supreme Court, requesting an emergency stay for the White Peak Exchange.

“The decision by the Attorney General to protect lands treasured by hunters and used by generations of northern New Mexicans is a good one,” Powell said in a written statement. “I fully support the decision to take this case to the State Supreme Court. We must keep White Peak open to hunters and the public.”

“From the onset, this exchange needed more oversight and scrutiny. Affected group, local communities and the public were never consulted. The danger, as noted by the Attorney General, is that more White Peak exchanges are forthcoming in the remaining nine months Lyons has in office,” Ray Powell said.

Powell continued, “The State Land Office’s proposed land exchange around White Peak represents a case study of what not to do when one is responsible for our public lands. "I am committed to working to reform the policies and procedures at the Land Office to increase transparency and accountability and prevent abuses like this from happening in the future."

Veterinarian Ray Powell is a Democratic candidate for the position of state land commissioner. Powell served as Land Commissioner from 1993-2002, and was recognized for running one of the best land management agencies in the country.

February 2, 2010 at 10:39 AM in 2010 NM Land Commissioner Race, Justice, Land Issues, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Mexico AG Sues to Stop White Peak Land Swaps; Petitions NM Supreme Court for Emergency Stay

In petitioning the New Mexico Supreme Court yesterday, Attorney General Gary King says the White Peak land exchanges violate state law and the bidding process used is unconstitutional.

"The public auction requirement for State Trust Land exchanges with private parties appears to be predetermined in the first two of the four proposed deals," Attorney General King said in a statement released by his office. "We are asking the Court for a writ of mandamus and an emergency stay that prohibits further exchanges of state trust lands by the land commissioner that violate the New Mexico Constitution."

Attorney General King's petition to the Court states in part:

On January 7, 2010, New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands, Patrick H. Lyons (hereinafter, the “Commissioner”), consummated a land exchange with the Stanley Ranch, the first of four major land exchanges that comprise what the Commissioner refers to as the Whites Peak Exchange. On December 17, 2009, the Commissioner notified the Express UU Bar Ranch that it was the winning bidder for the second of these four land exchanges.

... New Mexico law requires that the Commissioner conduct a public auction before undertaking exchanges of State Trust Lands with private parties. This requirement derives directly from the Enabling Act of 1910, which provided terms for the admission of New Mexico to the Union and is fully incorporated into the Constitution as part of the “fundamental law” of New Mexico.

... The Enabling Act deliberately established rigid procedural safeguards -- including the public auction requirement -- to prevent the exploitation of State Trust Lands by private parties. By the design of Congress, a public auction ensures that the trust obtains the maximum market price for its assets and all but eliminates the possibility of improper dealing between the Commissioner and private parties.

... In this case, however, despite purporting to comply with the public auction requirement, the Commissioner undertook the first two of these exchanges using public auctions that were, for all practical purposes, shams. The undisputed facts make clear that, notwithstanding the public auction requirement, the Land Commissioner made a predetermination to exchange specific and substantial portions of State Trust Lands with two specific private parties.

The Commissioner then narrowly tailored the “public auction” process to effectively guarantee this result. In so doing, he rendered the constitutional requirement for a public auction into a meaningless formality.

... This Petition thus addresses a relatively narrow question never before addressed by a New Mexico court: Does the Commissioner violate the duty imposed on him by the Enabling Act, the New Mexico Constitution, and his fiduciary obligations to the trust by conducting substantially constrained “public auctions” in order to achieve a predetermined result?

Attorney General King says the unusual step of bypassing the lower courts and petitioning the Supreme Court was taken because of the constitutional issues in question, the immediate effects on the public interest, and the fact that more White Peak land exchanges are proposed.

February 2, 2010 at 10:04 AM in Justice, Land Issues, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stephen Jones: A Rogue Court

This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, who is a progressive political activist and a resident of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

On July 3, 1854, eight armed artillery companies of Federal troops, deployed in a wedge formation, marched a single African-American man, in handcuffs, through the streets of Boston to a waiting Federal frigate. The man was Anthony Burns, a fugitive slave, and the courts had ordered his rendition and removal to Virginia. An enraged city jeered, most wearing black armbands of mourning, as the companies of Federal troops passed.

In the preceding days, his erstwhile owner had agreed to compromise and offered to sell Anthony Burns to his supporters, the citizens of Boston, but the Federal Government, speaking through its attorneys, and the Court would not allow it. Burns, as chattel property must, the Court said, be returned to Virginia.

In response to the decision of the Court, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier called the Law an “unloosed maniac.” The pacifist Henry David Thoreau went a step further. “My thoughts,” he wrote, “are murder to the state!”

The Burns decision was one of a series of decisions that would culminate in the double-barreled assault on civil liberties and the abolitionist cause by the Supreme Court and its blatant use of the law, or rather the judiciary, to support and further the economic interests of the slave holding planters of the South. In a 7-2 decision in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney did in fifty-five minutes what no Congress had ever managed to accomplish. In Dred Scott the Court proclaimed that no African American could be a citizen of the United States.

In manipulating the highest court of the land to serve the financial interests of the class of citizens from which he had come, that being the class of plantation slave holders, Taney believed he had ended, once and for all, the agitation of the abolitionists, destroyed the anti-slavery political movement, and elevated the slave-holding economic power to political pre-eminence. What he had done, in fact, was hurl kerosene on a raging fire. Four years later the nation was at war with itself, and the newly elected President, Abraham Lincoln, would openly ridicule and defy Chief Justice Taney and his majority as a “rogue court.”

Taney, who lost his property in the Civil War, died in poverty. Following his death a bill to appropriate funds for a bust of Taney’s head to be installed in the Court failed in the United States Senate. Senator Sumner of Massachusetts proposed that a vacant spot, not a bust of Taney, be left in the courtroom "to speak in warning to all who would betray liberty!"

Today’s visitors to Washington D.C. will find that Roger Taney’s bust has finally found its way into the brass bric-a-brac of the U.S. Supreme Court building, presumably to cover over an embarrassing hole in the wall, but his historic and legal reputation have not recovered. The Dred Scott decision was, thankfully, overthrown by the Congress with the passage of the 14th Amendment. After Taney, it was well into the 20th Century before the reputation of the Court managed to recover. Until 1935, the Court was forced to meet in the basement of the U.S. Capital building.

The slave holders of the antebellum order believed they could simply use the Supreme Court to further their economic and political ambitions. History proved them wrong. Today the corporate masters of the Republican Party have similar designs. They have decided to utilize five members of the Court to further the financial and political interests of the organization that appointed them in a way that hasn’t been seen since the times of Roger Taney.

Can any of us forget the blatantly political and outrageous decision of the Court in Bush v. Gore, which short-circuiting the constitutional and state statutory process for deciding the 2000 presidential election contest?

In Thursday’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC the Supreme Court majority negated a century of regulatory legislation protecting the rights of voters against the free flow of corporate dollars dating back to 1907. In a blatant power grab, they have opened the flood gates for any combination of donors calling themselves a “corporation” to pump funds into a campaign for or against any office holder.

Even stockholders in legitimate corporations are silenced by the decision. Now the corporate board rooms, rather than organizing for competition in the market, will be turned into de-facto campaign operations funneling dollars into paying for legislation that supports their company’s products and profits and blocks the competition and development projects of their potential rivals. History tells us what becomes of nations that are turned over to such corporate combinations, and it isn’t a pretty memory.

In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens called the majority, “backward.” Justice Stevens is way too kind! Like John Greenleaf Whittier, we ought to be saying the Supreme Court majority and the Law “is an unloosed maniac!”

While Justice Stevens was far too restrained, he enjoyed, at least, the solid support of good company. He was joined in his dissent by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. On behalf of the four Justices, Stevens wrote, “In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules.”

Stating the obvious, Justice Stevens continued, “At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

We also need to join the dissent. We need to demand that Congress act and fight to preserve our democracy. The Constitution must be amended to abolish the fiction of corporate “free speech” in the electoral process. Amendments aren’t easy, but they have been passed before, often when the Court overstepped its bounds, as it did on Thursday. The Amendment process was used to overthrow Dred Scott, to overrule the Court’s decision on the progressive income tax, and to guarantee the franchise to all in abolishing the poll tax. It is imperative, that we and Congress act, not only for the preservation of the democracy, but in saving the Supreme Court from itself.

When the judiciary becomes, in Lincoln’s terms, a rogue court, its very authority is in jeopardy. In fact, the Court has no authority to enforce its “decisions.” It must rely on the other branches of government to enforce its rules. If they don’t, and Executive and Legislative refusal to enforce court decisions has happened in our past, the court’s authority, and with it the whole body of jurisprudence, will simply begin to fade away.

In his earlier dissent in the blatant political decision made by the Court in Bush v. Gore, Justice Stevens warned his fellows of this eventuality if they continued on their political course. “The identity of the loser [in this case] is perfectly clear” Justice Stevens wrote. “It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

To read more posts by Stephen Jones, visit our archive.

Click to see previous commentary on this court decision by State Sen. Stephen Fischmann, Sen. Tom Udall, Rep. Martin Heinrich and this blog.

January 25, 2010 at 10:11 AM in By Stephen Jones, Contributing Writer, Civil Liberties, Corporatism, History, Justice, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jan. 14: NM Court of Appeals to Hold Oral Argument Before Santa Fe High School Students

The theatre of Santa Fe High School will be transformed into the courtroom of the New Mexico Court of Appeals this Thursday, January 14, 2010, at 10:00 AM. Students will observe the proceedings as the Court of Appeals hears oral argument in a criminal case currently pending before the Court. After oral argument, the panel of judges and the attorneys who argued the case will answer questions posed by the students.

“The Court of Appeals hears oral arguments throughout the state in an effort to educate students about the appellate court system and offer them a first hand view of the judicial process,” said Chief Judge Cynthia A. Fry of the New Mexico Court of Appeals in a statement released about the program. “The program is enriched by volunteers from the local bar association. Volunteer attorneys receive copies of the appellate briefs, study the issues presented and then meet with students and their teachers to familiarize them with the issues and arguments prior to the hearing of oral argument. We appreciate all of those who contribute to making this program an exceptional learning experience for the students.”

Judge Jonathan B. Sutin greatly expanded the program during 2007 and 2008 when he became Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. Motivated by his commitment to educating students about the appellate process, then Chief Judge Sutin met with local bar associations all over the state to encourage support for the program. Judge Sutin has continued the Court’s efforts to reach out to high school students in New Mexico. Over the past three years, the Court of Appeals has held more than twenty oral arguments in ten different cities throughout the state.

Santa Fe High School is located at 2100 Yucca Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

January 12, 2010 at 09:32 AM in Education, Events, Justice, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Prop 8 Marriage Equality Trial: Ted Olson's Opening Statement

You can follow the courtroom action via live blogging at the Prop 8 Trial Tracker, a Twitter feed at www.justnm.com or on Twitter at JustNewMexico/lists/prop8trial.

Thanks to Advocate.com, here's the text of the opening statement by plaintiffs' attorney Ted Olson in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the challenge to California's Prop 8, which bans same-sex marriage. The trial started today and is being heard by Chief Judge Vaughn Walker and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

As a gay friend of mine commented today, "I never thought I'd say this but "WAY TO GO TED OLSON!!!" I have to agree.

You may recall that Ted Olson is a major figure in the conservative movement and served as George Bush's Solicitor General from June 2001 to July 2004. Olson was present at the first meeting of the Federalist Society, and he has served on the board of directors of American Spectator magazine. He also served as an Assistant Attorney General (Office of Legal Counsel) in the Reagan administration, where he defended President Reagan during the Iran-Contra affair. Perhaps most people know him as the attorney who successfully represented presidential candidate George W. Bush in the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore, which essentially determined the final result of the contested 2000 Presidential election.

Check out this New York Times article that lays out the road that Ted Olson traveled to get to what "he believes could be the most important case of his career."

The plaintiffs' legal team in Perry v. Schwarzenegger also includes David Boies, who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, in opposition to Ted Olson. Boies is also a very highly respected attorney, but most people don't find it surprising that he's involved in this case. On the other hand, many are shocked to learn that Olson is one of the two lead attorneys in the case. However, when you come to think of it, conservatives who believe in the U.S. Constitution should be supporting marriage equality under the equal protection clause and due process. And so should every Dem.

January 11, 2010 at 10:12 PM in Civil Liberties, GLBT Rights, Justice, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (1)

(Updated) Follow Federal Trial on Lawsuit Challenging Prop 8's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Update: We've learned that www.justnm.com is carrying a Twitter feed from the courtroom and beyond on their website. You can follow the same feed directly on Twitter at JustNewMexico/lists/prop8trial.
The trial on the landmark federal lawsuit challenging Prop 8, which overturned marriage equality rights in California that were previously granted by the courts, began today and is expected to last at least two weeks. Perry v. Schwarzenegger (also known as the Ted Olson/David Boies case) is being heard by Chief Judge Vaughn Walker and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

The Courage Campaign Institute is live blogging the entire trial at its Prop 8 Trial Tracker page, and encouraging comments by readers.

The plaintiffs are planning to take their case against the California Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and to overturn bans throughout the nation. It's a risky challenge, however, as a decision against the suit could make it harder for those seeking marriage equality on the state level.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times,

San Francisco's U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker, a Republican appointee known for independence, will decide whether Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage violates U.S. constitutional rights of equal protection and due process. Walker's pretrial rulings have tended to favor supporters of same-sex marriage.

The start of the trial was described by Reuters:

... District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker peppered lawyers with questions before they had made their cases. He stopped lawyer Ted Olson, arguing in favor of same-sex marriage, a couple of sentences into his presentation to ask if the state could simply get out of the marriage business altogether to avoid the question of discrimination.

"Yes, I believe it could," said Olson, who won President George Bush his presidency in 2000 in a case against Al Gore argued by David Boies -- now working with Olson on this case.

Olson pressed ahead, but Walker asked whether the institution of marriage had improved as it changed over the years, and why the court should get involved in the case at all, since voters and legislatures are clearly engaged.

"We wouldn't need a Constitution if we left everything to the political process," replied Olson.

Supporters of same-sex marriage wanted to have the trial televised, and Judge Walker agreed to have it aired on a delayed basis on YouTube. However, opponents of marriage equality went to the U.S. Supreme Court to fight the order and today won a stay that will be reviewed again by the Supreme Court on Wednesday. The opponents, while unafraid to get in people's faces on this issue in the press and via nasty TV ads, are reportedly scared to have their testimony seen by the public:

The decision came after gay marriage foes told the court they would be harassed and intimidated if their testimony was disseminated on such a grand scale.

We all know they're really afraid to let the public see how powerful the arguments are on the side of marriage equality, and how dependent on fear and bias the opponents are in arguing against equal rights for all.

January 11, 2010 at 02:07 PM in Civil Liberties, GLBT Rights, Justice, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (5)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

NM Court Says Public Comments at County Commission Meetings Must Remain Free

On December 22, a New Mexico court ruled that the Valencia County Commission could not ban local resident Michael Wood from attending or making public comments at commission meetings, according to a statement released by the ACLU of New Mexico. Wood alleged that the ban, issued by the commission on September 16, 2009, was a prior restraint and discriminated against the content of his comments, violating his First Amendment right to free speech. Arguing on behalf of Wood, the ACLU of New Mexico obtained a preliminary injunction from the 13th Judicial District, allowing him to attend and participate in the public comments section of the meetings. The court granted the extraordinary relief and ruled that under the First Amendment, the commission did not have a legal right to ban Wood.

“We are pleased that the a New Mexico court has reaffirmed that individuals have the right to criticize their elected officials on issues of public importance during the public comments section of county commission meetings,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico. “Non-disruptive public comments cannot be suppressed simply because the commissioners do not like what is being said.”

This ruling comes on the heels of a similar controversy in Truth or Consequences, NM, where the city commission instituted a rule that required all public comments be written and submitted in advance for scrutiny. The ACLU of New Mexico sent a letter to the City Attorney’s office notifying them that the rule is unconstitutional. The rule has since been dropped.

“We are hopeful that other local governing bodies throughout New Mexico will note the outcome of these cases and refrain from initiating similar rules and actions that inhibit free speech,” said Simonson.

“Local governments created these public comments sections precisely so that citizens could speak their minds. Censoring or suppressing this speech is not only unconstitutional, but also defeats the purpose of giving the public a chance to comment during these meetings.”

ACLU-NM cooperating attorney Steven M. Chavez, ACLU-NM Co-legal director Phil Davis, and ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Brendan Egan represent Mr. Wood.

December 26, 2009 at 12:31 PM in Civil Liberties, Justice | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Court Grants New Mexico Nonprofits Full Attorney’s Fees

State District Court Judge Judith Herrera ruled yesterday that the State of New Mexico must pay $72,000 in attorney fees and costs to the Center for Civic Policy and the Southwest Organizing Project, according to a statement released today by the two organizations.

The Court ordered the state to pay the two nonprofit organizations’ court fees after Judge Herrera ruled last August in favor of the nonprofit organizations in their lawsuit against New Mexico Secretary of State Mary Herrera.

Satisfying -- except that the taxpayers will have to pay for the fight against the bogus ruling against nonprofits that appeared to be part of an all-out attack in response to several status quo Dems being ousted in primary elections in 2008 by reformers. And except that the nonprofits had to waste time and energy to ensure their constitutional rights.

In 2008, the two organizations were forced to seek protection in federal court against Secretary of State Herrera’s decision to require New Mexico Youth Organized and Southwest Organizing Project to register as “political committees.”

In August, Judge Herrera issued a decision granting summary judgment in favor of the nonprofits, ruling that the speech of NMYO and SWOP is protected by the First Amendment -- and the Secretary of State is without power to regulate it.

Despite the decisive victory in District Court and despite the clearly settled law in this area, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King has decided to appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court. If that appeal is unsuccessful, it could cost taxpayers even more in attorney's fees and costs.

Today the two groups hailed Judge Herrera’s decision both as a vindication of their work to improve the quality of life for all New Mexicans and as a strong statement against attempts to intimidate them. The huge legal fees the groups had to spend to defend themselves would have buried many small nonprofits in New Mexico, they noted.

“This is further evidence that nonprofit organizations are well within their right to hold public officials accountable,” said Center for Civic Policy chief operating officer Matt Brix. New Mexico Youth Organized is a project of the Center for Civic Policy.

But the groups also lamented the fact that taxpayer money will now be spent because of the Secretary of State's baseless order.

“It is upsetting that state money is being spent on frivolous pursuits like this when a deficit is prompting discussion of cutting education and health care for children,” said SWOP communications director George Lujan.

The nonprofits also prevailed against a lawsuit filed earlier by Shannon Robinson, Dan Silva and James Taylor -- the three legislators who lost primary races against Dem challengers.

November 19, 2009 at 12:16 PM in Justice, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (3)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

NM Courts, Corrections & Justice Committee to Meet in Santa Fe Nov. 23-24

The interim committee on Courts, Corrections and Justice will hold its next meeting in Room 307 of the State Capitol in Santa Fe on Monday, November 23rd, and Tuesday, November 24th. The Committee will convene at 9:00 AM on both days, according to a press release from the New Mexico House. Public comment will be received at the end of each day's meeting.

“This meeting will focus on legislative proposals for the upcoming thirty-day session beginning in January, 2010, including whether to endorse a state ethics commission. We will hear presentations from the Governor’s DWI and Domestic Violence coordinators and from the State Auditor. We will take public comment at the end of each day and invite the public to attending and share their ideas,” said Senator Peter Wirth.

“After much study during the interim on a variety of topics, the Committee will focus in this meeting on proposed legislation. We will hear about legislation proposed by the Executive Branch, the Uniform Law Commission and the State Auditor. As always, we welcome public comment on any of the issues on the agenda,” said Representative Al Park.

After the Committee convenes on Monday, it will spend the morning going over ethics issues and proposals with the members of the Ethics Commission Subcommittee. Monday afternoon will be devoted to reviewing legislative proposals from the Governor and the Uniform Law Commission. At about 4:30 PM, the Committee will hear public comments.

On Tuesday morning the Committee will cover topics ranging from contractor and subcontractor liens and the State Auditor’s legislative proposals, to missing persons and domestic violence and liquor establishment liability. On Tuesday afternoon, the Committee will review legislative proposals for possible Committee endorsement. Tuesday afternoon will end with the taking of public comment before the Committee adjourns.

Click for details of the Committee agenda, including the most recent updates.

November 18, 2009 at 11:59 AM in Crime, Ethics & Campaign Reform, Justice, NM Legislature 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Valencia Magistrate Court to Hold DWI Drug Court Graduation This Friday

Graduation day arrives this Friday, November 20, for five participants in Valencia Magistrate Court Judge Danny H. Hawkes’ DWI Drug Court program. Each graduate received a year of intensive monitoring, supervision and treatment for drug or alcohol abuse. Graduation ceremonies will take place during a full DWI Drug Court hearing which begins at noon.

As part of the graduation ceremonies, the five participants will describe to the court, family, friends and the fourteen current participants in the program how the DWI Drug Court program changed their lives.

“Participants in the DWI Drug Court program are non-felony DWI offenders with two to three prior convictions,” said Judge Hawkes in a statement released by the office of the New Mexico Judiciary. “They were not dealing with a major root of their problem -- their substance abuse. We offered these five who are graduating on Friday an opportunity to get treatment for their substance abuse, continue to work and support their families or attend school, and basically turn their lives around. They took us up on our offer, and with hard work they succeeded. I am proud of them and wish them productive lives.”

The Valencia County DWI Drug Court began in March of 2008. Participating defendants cannot have a violent history or prior felonies. The current offense cannot involve an accident with injuries. Only those exhibiting true remorse and a desire to make a permanent lifestyle change are approved for the program. A maximum of 20 people may participate at a time.

The Valencia Magistrate Court’s DWI Drug Court Coordinator Gilbert Romero said, “This program benefits both defendants and the community. The cost of the program is $20 per day per individual, which is an annual rate of $7,280. Without this program, defendants would likely be incarcerated in the county jail for 364 days at a cost to taxpayers of $85 per day, or $30,940 a year, with no substance abuse treatment or ability to earn a living or attend school. Further, DWI offenders who serve prison sentences are significantly more likely to be arrested again for DWI than drug court participants.”

The Valencia County Magistrate Court is located at 901 West Castillo, Belen, NM 87002. For further information, contact Gilbert Romero at 505.864.7509, or Angela Peinado, AOC’s CIP/DC Statewide Coordinator, at 505.827.4729.

November 18, 2009 at 10:02 AM in Justice, Legal Issues | Permalink | Comments (3)