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Impeachment Would Be Topic of Planned 'Extraordinary Session'

By David Miles
Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— Lawmakers are making plans to convene an "extraordinary session" of the Legislature on Oct. 28 to consider recommendations from a House panel on whether indicted state Treasurer Robert Vigil should be impeached.
    Legislators on Monday said they recently began circulating a certificate for lawmakers to sign to call the extraordinary session. It would be the second such session in New Mexico history.
    Lawmakers called the state's first extraordinary session in 2002 to override then-Gov. Gary Johnson's veto of a budget measure.
    Impeachment is unprecedented in New Mexico. A legislative panel charged with recommending whether Vigil should be impeached finalized procedures and a timetable for its fact-finding mission on Monday.
    "This is a unique event in New Mexico history," said Paul Kennedy, special counsel for the panel. "There has never been an impeachment in New Mexico history, and, therefore, we were left with no rules with which to start."
    Under the state constitution, state officers and district court judges may be impeached for "crimes, misdemeanors and malfeasance in office."
    The House of Representatives may impeach a state official or district court judge with a majority vote of elected members. The Senate, which would then try the impeachment case, could convict with a two-thirds majority of elected senators.
    The state constitution prohibits impeached officials from exercising official powers or duties until the Senate acquits them.
    The Legislature may convene an extraordinary session when three-fifths of the elected members of each chamber certify to the governor that an emergency exists in New Mexico. There are 70 House members and 42 senators, and Democrats control both legislative chambers.
    House Majority Leader W. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said he is "fairly confident" that legislators will gather enough signatures to call themselves into an extraordinary session.
    Vigil, who oversees a nearly $5 billion investment portfolio of public funds, was arrested Sept. 16 along with former state Treasurer Michael Montoya on federal extortion charges in an alleged kickback scheme.
    Both men have pleaded not guilty.
    Martinez is co-chairman of a subcommittee of the House Rules and Order of Business Committee, which Monday issued a report outlining procedures and a timetable for its fact-finding mission.
    The rules committee and the House adopted the report later Monday.
    The subcommittee would recommend impeachment if there was "clear evidence" to warrant impeachment, the report said.
    Rep. Eric Youngberg, an Albuquerque Republican and co-chairman of the subcommittee, said the panel did not want to use a criminal standard of proof because impeachment is a political proceeding.
    "We want it to be a common term that each legislator in his own conscience can determine," Youngberg said.
    The subcommittee agreed that it would discuss evidence privately in executive session if public presentation would jeopardize the federal case against Vigil or attorney-client privilege between Kennedy and the panel.
    Bob Johnson, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, criticized the panel's decision to allow closed-door meetings.
    "The public is entitled to openness," Johnson said.
    The subcommittee has set the following timetable for its work:
   
  • Friday or Saturday: Kennedy will report on his progress to Martinez and Youngberg behind closed doors.
       
  • Oct. 17 and possibly Oct. 18: The subcommittee will consider evidence.
       
  • Oct. 26 and possibly Oct 27: The subcommittee will issue its final report and possibly draft articles of impeachment against Vigil.
       
  • Oct. 28: Lawmakers will convene in extraordinary session to allow the rules committee to receive the subcommittee's recommendations, which will be forwarded to the full House.