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UNM selects new chief legal counsel

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President Garnett Stokes has named Loretta Martinez, pictured, the new chief legal counsel at the University of New Mexico. (Courtesy of University of New Mexico)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — First-year President Garnett Stokes has made her first major hire at the University of New Mexico, tapping Loretta Martinez as the institution’s next lead attorney.

Martinez, currently the City University of New York’s general counsel and vice chancellor for legal affairs, will start Oct. 1.

Stokes announced the chief legal counsel pick on Monday, filling one of several high-ranking positions already open or soon to open. UNM recently lost its provost/executive vice president for academic affairs, Chaouki Abdallah, to Georgia Tech. UNM’s executive vice president for administration/chief operating officer/chief financial officer, David Harris, will retire later this year.

Martinez, a Harvard Law School graduate, spent most of her career in Colorado. Prior to CUNY, she worked seven years as general counsel and secretary to the trustees board at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She also had previous positions at Colorado State University and Colorado College.

Though she’s been at CUNY only a year, she said UNM has always intrigued her. A Colorado native, she has deep family ties to New Mexico and had lived in Las Vegas, N.M., as a child.

“I would’ve been interested in the UNM opportunity sitting at my desk in downtown Denver, which I was doing a year and some ago, and I’m still interested sitting at my desk in Midtown Manhattan,” Martinez said Monday.

Martinez replaces Elsa Kircher Cole, who retired in June.

UNM’s chief legal counsel reports directly to Stokes and oversees an in-house team of approximately a dozen attorneys and any contract attorneys retained by the university, according to the job prospectus.

In addition to managing the UNM legal team, Martinez said she likes to maintain a case load herself and wants to work alongside the regents, Stokes and other senior leaders to identify and achieve larger objectives.

“I think there is a lot of layers to the job,” she said.

Stokes lauded Martinez’s experience, saying in a written statement “The more I discussed our institutional goals and challenges with her, the more confident I became that she is the right person for the job.”

Martinez arrives as UNM faces intense criticism over its compliance with state transparency laws. The New Mexico Attorney General’s Office last week issued a UNM “transparency report” that cited the university’s “disturbing pattern of concealment and deliberate misrepresentation.”

Martinez said she wants UNM to fully comply with the “letter of the law” in transparency matters, “but at the same time preserve for itself the abilities it does have when it’s working on issues – when it’s still in the middle of issues – to be able to do its work as it normally would. It’s a balancing act.”

A search committee chaired by Board of Regents President Rob Doughty advanced three finalists, including Martinez, for Stokes’ consideration in July. The other two candidates, Jim Pottorff and Eric Bentley, have since taken jobs at the University of Nebraska and Texas Tech University, respectively.

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