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Editorial all (medical pot) smoke, no fire

Did the Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board miss the day in journalism school where they cover accuracy in reporting, especially in editorials?

The Journal’s Editorial Board should not allow these pages to be weaponized for politically-motivated and unfounded attacks. Yet a recent editorial (Oct. 1) regarding my work as a private lawyer representing a medical cannabis producer did just that. The outrageous nature of the attack against me and my character demands a response.

Political opponents have long muddied the waters in an attempt to discredit me and the entire medical cannabis compassionate-use program. Their arguments are false and have been repeatedly debunked.

At issue is how legislators maintain high ethical standards, prevent conflicts of interest, and ensure that our service does not give us a leg up in our everyday lives. I have studied and scrupulously followed the standards of ethical behavior for legislators during my 11 years of service in the Legislature and have championed the creation of the Ethics Commission to bring true transparency and clear ethical guidance to all public offices. I am confident that my legal work and my legislative service do not present a conflict of interest.

This paper’s Editorial Board takes the position that lawyers cannot serve in the Legislature without creating conflict with every vote, floor speech or bill introduction. This newspaper ignores, however, the law and the rules of ethical conduct for lawyers. It is absurd to think that a lawyer should recuse from a vote every time a client may be affected. For example, if that were the standard, no lawyer-legislator could vote on funding for roads because every client who uses our roadways would be affected.

As legislators, we must hold ourselves to the highest standard of ethics. For attorneys who are also legislators, the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys provide additional rules and requirements to ensure that our actions in the courtroom are kept strictly separate from our legislative service. Legislator-lawyers may not refer to our legislative service in the courtroom or take any action that gives the impression that we are using our legislative offices to gain an advantage for a client. I go to great lengths to abide by the spirit and the letter of the law in my courtroom conduct, as witnessed by judges, colleagues and clients.

The legislative process benefits from having people with diverse personal and professional backgrounds as lawmakers. As noted in a recent legal case, attorneys have unique experience to bring to public service. In a 2015 court order, a district court judge explicitly ruled that preventing a legislator from representing their clients in adversarial proceedings would “contravene clear statutory language and create serious disincentives for those most schooled in the law from taking up public service as state representatives.”

As citizen legislators, we must ensure that our behavior is not influenced by the promise of a specific benefit for ourselves or our families. We also must separate our professional lives from our legislative service. It is clear from the record that the medical cannabis legislation in question went through the regular legislative process and was not expedited in any manner. The bill was introduced and modified several times in the Senate and made its way through the process in the House with no particular speed. This record is available plainly on the legislative website, and I invite the public to examine the record for themselves. Unfortunately, the Albuquerque Journal “greased the skids” in its editorial process and thereby ignored facts, the clear record and the law to produce a political hit-job.

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