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Editorial: Speaker’s work on medical marijuana suit raises concerns

Editor’s note: This editorial has been corrected from the original.

 

Did Brian Egolf miss the day in law school where they cover conflicts of interest?

The Santa Fe Democrat currently serves as New Mexico’s Speaker of the House. Egolf, like many of his fellow unpaid New Mexico lawmakers, also has a day job as an attorney. That’s normal for our citizen Legislature and not a problem in and of itself.

Well, not unless a situation arises wherein Egolf’s role as a high-ranking legislator allows him to grease the skids for legislation that ultimately enriches him in his private law practice.

And if Egolf isn’t quite fully immersed in that sticky terrain, he’s at least ankle deep in it.

Consider: Egolf is currently representing medical marijuana magnate Duke Rodriguez in an ongoing lawsuit against the state of New Mexico.

While Rodriguez’s Ultra Health LLC has all but cornered New Mexico’s medical marijuana market, Rodriguez – himself a medical marijuana user – lives in Arizona. He is one of three people who live out of state who sued the state to be allowed to participate in New Mexico’s medical cannabis program.

As Journal reporter Dan Boyd reported Sept. 24, the case took its most recent turn on Sept. 23, when a judge ordered the New Mexico Department of Health to start issuing medical marijuana cards to out-of-state residents. The matter remains in limbo as the state Department of Health plans to ask the judge to reconsider, but it was still a clear, albeit not yet final, victory for Rodriguez’s bottom line – and, presumably, for his high-powered lawyer Egolf.

And therein lies the rub.

Egolf is clearly working his hardest to obtain a certain outcome for his client in the politically fraught world of medical marijuana. He also clearly wields tremendous influence over legislative matters, including laws around medical marijuana. Despite this apparent clash of interests, Egolf hasn’t included Rodriguez’s company on a list of potential conflicts of interest, nor has he recused himself in medical marijuana-related legislative matters.

When Republicans raised the issue back in 2017, Egolf said his work with the medical marijuana industry would not influence his work as a lawmaker. He also pointed out it would be tough to find clients who don’t interact with legislation in some way – a fair point – and, according to a 2017 Journal story, noted that, like other state legislators who are lawyers, he discloses the law firm that he works for and any state agencies before which he represents clients.

On Egolf’s side of the ledger, New Mexico Ethics Watch backed up his stance that he didn’t need to disclose medical marijuana clients as potential conflicts of interest. And perhaps that’s in line with the letter of the law.

But is that really what’s best for New Mexico? Why should only state agencies be included in lawyers’ disclosures and not private industry?

Perhaps it’s a good topic for New Mexico’s newly minted Ethics Commission to cut its teeth on. Because disclosure norms notwithstanding, having the guy who helps make the rules for an industry also represent that industry in court should raise some eyebrows.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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