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GOP candidate for secretary of state faces lawsuits

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

JoHanna Cox

The Republican candidate for secretary of state in this year’s election, JoHanna Cox, describes herself in campaign literature as a “tireless advocate for the law.”

The former prosecutor turned civil lawyer has not, however, managed to avoid being sued for legal malpractice three times in the past six years.

In a lawsuit filed last month by an organization that represents public safety officers in collective bargaining and labor relations, Cox is accused of fraud, self-dealing, taking actions that were contrary to her client’s interest and using a romantic relationship with a local union president to gain access to union members to solicit business. No answer from Cox has yet been filed.

In a case brought in 2012, a widow claimed she lost a potential $90,000 life insurance benefit on her now-deceased husband because of inaction by Cox and the law firm where she worked at the time. Cox left the law firm, and the case has been resolved.

The third case stems from Cox’s work as general counsel for Fantasy World adult nightclub in Albuquerque. Fantasy World alleges that Cox was negligent in defending the company in a lawsuit filed in 2015 by a former club security guard who was shot by a patron. In her answer, Fox maintained that she acted properly and ultimately filed the appropriate paperwork.

Cox told the Journal she couldn’t comment on the two pending lawsuits brought by Fantasy World and the peace officers.

A common allegation in all three civil lawsuits is that Cox was remiss in taking legal actions that could have helped clients.

In court records, Cox has denied wrongdoing.

Two lawsuits

In the most recent lawsuit, filed against her May 14, the New Mexico Coalition of Public Safety Officers alleges that Cox breached her fiduciary duties and provided inaccurate or untruthful information to the union bargaining unit and to the 13th Judicial District Court about an alleged scheduling conflict that may not have existed. The lawsuit also alleges that she refused to quit when the union told her she was fired.

Cox hasn’t yet filed a response to the allegations with the court.

Still pending is an unrelated lawsuit brought last year against Cox by Fantasy World.

An insurance company for Fantasy World sued the club after settling the injured security’s guard’s lawsuit. The insurance company said Fantasy World’s lawyer, Cox, had failed to timely notify the company of the claim and take certain legal steps to defend the case.

Fantasy World, in turn, is now suing Cox for attorney’s fees and costs incurred in defending the insurance company action.

Insurance loss

Cox’s candidacy statement doesn’t mention her employment at the Silva, Saucedo & Gonzales law firm in Albuquerque in 2008.

In the lawsuit filed in 2012 in state District Court in Albuquerque, Sally Garcia alleged that Cox and the firm, Silva, Saucedo & Gonzales – was negligent in trying to secure a $90,000 life insurance benefit on her husband, Marty Garcia, who worked at Bernalillo County as a building maintenance technician.

The suit was resolved a few months after it was filed, dismissed by both parties without Cox or her law firm filing a defense. The dismissal occurred after Cox had left the firm, and she told the Journal she didn’t know how the case was resolved.

Sally Garcia approached the law firm after the county notified her and her husband in August 2008 that his employment benefits were being canceled. Marty Garcia had been diagnosed with diabetes and had undergone amputation of his right leg two years earlier.

As a result of his medical issues, Marty Garcia had been on leave from work.

Sally Garcia alleged that Cox assured her in 2008 that she was going to send a letter to Bernalillo County to negotiate reinstatement of her husband’s life insurance benefits through the county’s plan. The lawsuit alleged that between August 2008 and Jan. 21, 2009, Cox assured her via email that she would send a letter to the county.

But the lawsuit alleged that Cox “neither sent such a letter to the County nor ever contacted the County about reinstating Mr. Garcia’s benefits.” Her husband died in February 2009.

After months of no response from Cox, the lawsuit alleges that Sally Garcia emailed Cox twice in April 2009, expressing her concern about apparent inaction on the benefits but never heard back.

Instead, one of the firm’s shareholders informed Garcia on May 4, 2009, that Cox was no longer employed there. The lawsuit alleged that the firm failed to take any steps to continue representing Sally Garcia to try to reinstate the county benefits.

As a result, the lawsuit claimed, Marty Garcia died without the $90,000 life insurance for his wife and sons.

Cox said her departure from the firm had nothing to do with the Garcia case. She didn’t respond to a subsequent Journal call seeking further comment about the case.

‘Highest regard’ for the law

Cox has no opposition in the Republican primary on Tuesday. She faces incumbent Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver in the November general election. Libertarian candidate, former state Rep. Sandra Jeff of Crownpoint, is also on the ballot.

According to her Jan. 11 candidacy statement, Cox, 36, is a graduate of the University of North Dakota law school. After graduation, she moved to Albuquerque and became an assistant district attorney in Valencia County.

She also worked as a deputy district attorney for the 1st Judicial District, which includes Santa Fe and Los Alamos. While there, her statement said, she founded and became director of Public Integrity Unit in April 2009.

“Running a clean, transparent, and fair election is not the job of a political organizer, but rather an attorney who understands the law and the role of the position in which she will be elected,” Cox said in her candidacy statement. She added that if elected, New Mexico voters will be able to trust the “duties of the office are being conducted with the highest regard to the law.”

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