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Editorial: Non-viable suit earns sanctions

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A judge’s award of $48,000 may not be a lot of money to an entity as big as the city of Albuquerque. But the message it sends could be quite valuable to taxpayers.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson on Friday made the award as a sanction against attorneys who had decided to continue a lawsuit contesting the redistricting map signed by Mayor Richard Berry in 2012 after their case had been determined to be “no longer viable.”

Johnson said attorneys “continued the charade of proceeding forward with this matter, causing the taxpayers of Albuquerque to expend additional resources for attorneys’ fees in spite of the fact that the plaintiffs’ counsel knew or should have known that this case was over.”

Berry had contended the lawsuit was designed to make him look bad during his 2013 re-election campaign, which he won by a wide margin.

The plaintiffs in the suit, Phillip Patrick Baca, Ron Romero, Bernadette Miera and Mary Molina Mescall, are not subject to the sanctions. Johnson said they were simply relying on their attorneys.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys are listed as Luis Roberto Vera Jr. of San Antonio, Texas, general counsel of the League of United Latin American Citizens; Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, an Albuquerque Democrat; and Albuquerque lawyer Phillip G. Sapien. Maestas said he had withdrawn from the case early on.

Maestas was critical of the city for seeking sanctions. “All these sanctions do is discourage future lawsuits,” he said.

Let’s hope he’s right – at least non-viable lawsuits with an apparent political purpose.

Johnson’s decision should give pause to ideologues on both sides of the political spectrum. At least at the federal level, you don’t get to make grandstanding political statements without merit at the taxpayer’s expense.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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