Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Libertarian Blair Dunn is taking the unusual step of highlighting his own family court dispute as part of his campaign for attorney general.
Dunn, an Albuquerque lawyer, says the case involving his ex-wife and daughter is evidence of the need for dramatic changes in New Mexico’s judicial system.
In an opinion column he submitted to news organizations last week, including the Journal, Dunn says he was ordered to pay $7,500 in legal fees to his ex-wife – unfairly, he says.
The order came as part of a seven-year legal battle between Dunn and his ex-wife, Lela, centering on their divorce and custody of their daughter. The recent flare-up involved a health care decision for the child.
Dunn, the son of New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, isn’t avoiding the topic. In fact, he’s making it part of his campaign – an example, he said, of the way the judiciary unfairly treats some mothers and fathers in family legal disputes.
“What did I get for the trouble of trying to be a good, involved parent?” Dunn asks in the column. “I had my fundamental liberty to participate in medical decisions for my child stripped away with no due process and a $7,500 fine, payable to my ex-wife, who was/is actively working to exclude me from my daughter’s life.”
The judiciary didn’t see it that way.
Last week, the state Court of Appeals issued a three-page opinion that took note of Dunn’s “frequent filing of motions and his conduct in general” and upheld the order awarding legal fees to his ex-wife.
It’s rare territory for a political campaign, but Dunn said the case illustrates an important part of why he’s running for office.
“You have this court system designed to pick winners and losers,” Dunn said in an interview. “And I was one of them who, for no reason, was picked as a loser, and I was treated as second-class parent. That’s really offensive.”
Dunn, 36, faces incumbent Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, and Republican Michael Hendricks, an immigration lawyer, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Balderas, who previously served as state auditor and as a state senator, has an enormous financial advantage, with about $900,000 in his campaign account, according to a finance report filed July 5. Hendricks had about $84,000 in cash on hand, and Dunn had about $5,700.
Hendricks said he had no comment on Dunn’s personal story becoming part of the campaign.
Balderas said that under state law, the “Office of the Attorney General serves the public interest, and should never be used to manipulate private family matters.”
Dunn, for his part, said he’s running to win, of course, but that shining a light on New Mexico’s family court system is his primary motivation. Given the number of marriages that end in divorce, he said, it’s especially important to ensure the fair treatment of both parents.
“The votes are less important to me than getting this message out – by a bunch,” he said. “… This is an issue hurting our state and our kids, and we need to do something about it.”
As attorney general, Dunn said, he could issue legal opinions that would carry weight with the Legislature, motivating lawmakers to fix what he sees as a broken court system.
He said he has shared the story of his family dispute on a national radio program and with members of a group that advocates for equal parenting and fathers’ rights.
He said he hopes local news operations will publish his letter. (The letter can be found at the end of this story. It will not be published on the Journal’s opinion pages because the newspaper rarely publishes letters that make allegations involving a specific court case about private individuals, especially one in family court.)
Dunn acknowledged that he worries about the publicity hurting his daughter and family.
But “when your back’s against the wall,” Dunn said, “you have to stand up and do what’s right.”
Dunn has other experience fighting the court system. He challenged new bail rules in New Mexico on behalf of the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and others, seeking damages from the state Supreme Court.
A federal judge later imposed sanctions on Dunn for filing “frivolous” claims in that case, and he was ordered to pay about $15,000, which Dunn has appealed.