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Charges dropped over speedy trial violations

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Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

A state district judge who earlier tossed criminal charges against former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron based on speedy trial violations has done the same for Vigil-Giron’s one-time co-defendant Elizabeth “Daisy” Kupfer.

Judge Reed Sheppard filed a 24-page order received this week by the defense making an even lengthier analysis of the speedy trial issue.

As in his ruling last year in the charges against Vigil-Giron, Sheppard found that the length of the delay weighs heavily against the state. A New Mexico Supreme Court opinion in 2009 found that even complex cases should be tried within 18 months and that, after that time period, a delay may be presumed prejudicial, the Sheppard opinion says.

The case against Daisy Kupfer and others is clearly complex, he said, based on the number of charges, the basis for them, the number of defendants and the extensive discovery.

And the judge said Kupfer had clearly suffered prejudice by losing a key witness, former Elections Bureau Chief Hoyt Clifton, who died in August 2012. “The parties appear to agree Clifton was the central player in at least part of the events that form the background in this case,” Sheppard said in his ruling.

Kupfer, he said, had established that she suffered actual prejudice by the delay – from extensive health complications, as well as the loss of an important witness.

Vigil-Giron, Daisy Kupfer, husband Joe Kupfer and Texas political consultant Armando Gutierrez were indicted in state District Court in 2009 on 49 counts each of conspiracy, fraud, embezzlement, money-laundering and soliciting or paying a kickback related to $6 million in contracts to produce voter education commercials.

Special prosecutor Joseph CampBell could not be reached for comment on Sheppard’s ruling. CampBell and Anthony Rivera were contracted to handle the case after the Attorney General’s Office – where Daisy Kupfer was a top administrator in a previous administration – was disqualified from prosecuting the case.

Daisy Kupfer’s attorney, Erlinda Johnson, said she believes Sheppard reached the right result considering the “extraordinary” length of delay and the prejudice to her client.

Clifton was a critical witness, she said. “We lost a highly exculpatory witness for Elizabeth,” Johnson said Thursday. “This should be the end of this case as to Elizabeth.”

The Kupfers and Gutierrez also were indicted on charges including tax fraud and violations of the Help America Vote Act in federal court. All three were found guilty at two trials – one for the tax case involving the Kupfers and the other involving the HAVA fund in which Joe Kupfer and Gutierrez were charged.

Daisy Kupfer has been sentenced to three years in federal prison on her federal tax conviction, but the trial judge allowed her to be free while the case is on appeal.

Erlinda Johnson filed a motion for a new trial alleging juror misconduct during deliberations at the August 2012 jury trial of the Kupfers for tax fraud. The jury’s deliberations were infected with extraneous prejudicial information offered by one juror who was far from harmless, the motion says.

“As set forth in (one juror’s) affidavit, another juror told the jury that AGA (Armando Gutierrez and Associates) had been involved in a big scandal, and that the Kupfers were part of a big case involving other indictments,” the request for a new trial says.

Sheppard’s ruling does not address the two remaining defendants in the state case, Joseph Kupfer and Gutierrez.

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