ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said she can’t remember a time during her tenure when so many allegations of misconduct were leveled against her employees in such a short period of time.
“Typically, when it rains, it pours,” Brandenburg said in a Journal interview Tuesday.
♦ Three assistant district attorneys were suspended for a week each without pay and ordered to attend alcohol awareness classes after the prosecutors got drunk at a bowling alley in February and wound up in a heated exchange with the business’s staff. The prosecutors’ discipline was released this week after a public records request from the Journal.
♦ Ongoing internal and criminal investigations are focused on whether four DA’s Office employees were using handicapped placards not issued to them to park illegally during the past few months.
♦ The chief deputy DA responsible for prosecuting felony domestic violence cases was arrested earlier this month on charges of assaulting a sheriff’s deputy, then promptly resigned.
Brandenburg said she has dealt quickly with the allegations.
For example, she said she learned of the bowling alley incident on Feb. 13 and, by March 8, the three prosecutors had received their discipline.
The handicapped placard incident came to light as a result of a KRQE-TV investigation that aired May 15. Brandenburg immediately launched an internal investigation, then sent information to the Albuquerque Police Department for a possible criminal case.
And in the case of top prosecutor Alisha Maestas, Brandenburg pointed out, the deputy DA resigned immediately after her arrest, and so no discipline was needed.
“With the bowling alley incident, they are accused of misusing their positions. That’s huge,” Brandenburg said. “And with the placards, there’s a question of honor and integrity. That’s huge, too. These are serious allegations, and we try to be prompt and thorough … But we can’t just dismiss people. We have to abide by the law and follow progressive discipline.”
She said she’s had employees in trouble with the law or accused of misconduct in the past, but never with this kind of frequency.
“I guess you could say I’m a horrible DA and everything is falling apart, but I think (the misconduct) would be more consistent than this if that were the case,” Brandenburg said. “I don’t know why this is happening now, but we’re trying to do everything we can.”
She said she has instituted mandatory alcohol-awareness training for everyone in the office.
Brandenburg is seeking a fourth term in office. She faces opposition in the Democratic primary from public defender Jennifer Romero. There is no Republican challenger on the November general election ballot.
In early February, assistant district attorneys Julie Gallardo, Anthony Griego, Thomas Fitzwater — who is the son of Metropolitan Court Judge Kevin Fitzwater — and three others were at the Silva Lanes bowling alley in Northeast Albuquerque when things got out of hand.
Some of the prosecutors were drinking and getting rowdy, Brandenburg said, and bowling alley staff asked at least one of them to leave. The prosecutors identified themselves as employees of the DA’s Office, and the exchange was caught on videotape with no audio. Police were not called to the scene.
Brandenburg said the prosecutors told her investigators that they identified themselves because the bowling alley staff had “made some serious allegations against them.” But bowling alley employees said the prosecutors threatened them with legal action after saying they worked for the DA’s Office.
“We don’t know which story is true, but clearly there was a heated discussion,” she said.
Gallardo, Griego and Fitzwater were each suspended for a week without pay and ordered to attend alcohol awareness classes, Brandenburg said. Gallardo and Fitzwater are assigned to the Metro Court division, and Gallardo was moved from a position in which she “roved” to handle cases in different judges’ courtrooms to one in which she now appears only before a particular judge. Griego is a “newer hire” who has not yet been assigned.
Among the other three prosecutors who were present at the bowling alley, Brandenburg said, one was the designated driver, one managed to defuse the situation and get everyone out of the establishment, and the other apologized to bowling alley staff. None of those three was disciplined.
She said her staff is held to a high standard.
“We are all human beings,” Brandenburg said. “We work under a microscope, and we tell people that. But these are people who haven’t had a pay raise in four years, they have stressors in their lives. And this is a very young office. That’s not an excuse for poor behavior. There are times when we don’t exercise the best judgment.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal