Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Embattled state Sen. Richard Martinez said Thursday that he does not plan to resign from the Legislature, even if convicted of drunken driving charges.
After a court hearing in Santa Fe, Martinez also told reporters he feels he could still serve ably as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which functions as a clearinghouse for DWI and other crime-related legislation.
“Of course I can,” Martinez said as he left the courtroom along with his attorney. “This is probably going to make me a better senator.”
Martinez, a Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2001, has entered a plea of not guilty to charges of aggravated DWI and reckless driving. He is free on his own recognizance under certain court-ordered conditions of release that include no consumption of alcohol.
The case is assigned to District Judge Bryan Biedscheid after five other state judges in the Santa Fe-based 1st Judicial District were either bumped off the case or recused themselves.
Biedscheid, who was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March, disclosed to attorneys during Thursday’s hearing that he had met with Martinez earlier this year regarding election-related issues.
He said he still felt he could preside impartially over the case but pledged to recuse himself if either the Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, or Martinez’s defense attorney, David Foster, requests him to do so in the next week.
Martinez was arrested June 28 after the SUV he was driving rear-ended another vehicle that was stopped at a red light in Española.
The veteran senator, a retired Rio Arriba County magistrate judge, could not successfully perform sobriety tests after the crash, as shown on police lapel-cam video. He also was apparently injured in the crash and used a knee scooter on Thursday to leave the Santa Fe courthouse.
After the crash, Martinez refused to take a breath test to determine blood alcohol content and pleaded with an Española police officer not to place him under arrest. The refusal to submit to a breath test is grounds for an aggravated DWI charge under New Mexico law.
The arrest has prompted some calls for Martinez to resign from the Legislature, though at least one other senator – Democrat Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque – has a DWI conviction on her record from 20 years ago.
Another state lawmaker, former Rep. Monica Youngblood, R-Albuquerque, was defeated in her reelection bid last year after being convicted of aggravated drunken driving.
Lujan Grisham, a fellow Democrat, said in July that no one is above the law and Martinez should “do the right thing.”
But Martinez has said he does not plan to resign and intends to seek reelection to his Senate District 5 seat next year, when all 112 legislative seats will be up for election.
The decision on whether he retains his Senate Judiciary Committee chairmanship will be made by the Senate Committees Committee, an 11-member group that includes top-ranking senators from both political parties.
If convicted, Martinez would not automatically be required to give up his seat, because both charges against him are misdemeanors. The state Supreme Court ruled in 2011 – in a case involving former Public Regulation Commissioner Carol Sloan – that elected officials automatically forfeit their offices when convicted of felonies.