SANTA FE – New Mexico’s top-ranking Senate Democrat says leading lawmakers will take a wait-and-see approach to deciding whether Sen. Richard Martinez, D-Española, who is fighting drunken driving charges, should retain his position as chairman of a key Senate committee.
Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, suggested in a recent interview that Senate leaders will wait for a resolution in Martinez’s court case before deciding whether he should be stripped of his post as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman.
“I think the legal process needs to work itself out,” Papen told the Journal. “We don’t want to jump the gun and act like we have all the answers.”
Martinez, a Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2001, has entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of aggravated DWI. He said last week that he does not plan to resign from the Legislature, even if convicted.
The veteran senator also said he feels he can still serve ably as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying the experience could end up making him a “better senator.”
Ultimately, the decision on whether Martinez retains his chairmanship will be made by the Senate Committees’ Committee, an 11-member group that includes top-ranking senators from both political parties.
Papen, who heads the committee and has appointed some of its members, said she could call a meeting of the Senate Committees’ Committee before the start of the 30-day legislative session in January, but she indicated that’s not likely to happen.
“We really feel we need to let this play out and make sure there’s due process,” she said.
Martinez, a retired Rio Arriba County magistrate judge, was arrested June 28 after the SUV he was driving rear-ended another vehicle that was stopped at a red light in Española.
He could not successfully perform sobriety tests after the crash, as shown on police lapel-cam video, and refused to take a breath test to determine blood alcohol content. He also pleaded with an Española police officer not to arrest him.
The refusal to submit to a breath test is grounds for an aggravated DWI charge under New Mexico law.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether Martinez’s drunken driving case will be resolved before the Legislature convenes in January. Five state district judges in Santa Fe have already either been bumped off the case or recused themselves, and no trial date had been set as of Monday.
Martinez is free on his own recognizance under certain court-ordered conditions of release that include no consumption of alcohol.