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Sen. Martinez’s DWI trial set for November

SANTA FE – The drunken driving case against state Sen. Richard Martinez will likely be resolved before a 30-day legislative session starts in January.

A state judge on Monday scheduled a two-day trial to start Nov. 18, though it could get pushed back to December if scheduling conflicts arise.

Martinez, an Española Democrat who has served in the Senate since 2001, has entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of aggravated DWI stemming from a June 28 traffic crash. He has said he does not plan to resign from the Legislature, even if convicted.

The veteran senator also recently 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.”

However, it’s unclear whether fellow senators might move against Martinez if he’s convicted.

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, suggested last month that Senate leaders will wait for a resolution in Martinez’s court case before deciding whether he should be stripped of his chairmanship position.

The decision will ultimately be made by the Senate Committees’ Committee, an 11-member group that includes top-ranking senators from both political parties.

Martinez, a retired Rio Arriba County magistrate judge, was arrested 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.

The drunken driving case is being handled by District Judge Francis Mathew, the eighth judge assigned to the case. The seven previous judges either recused themselves or were bumped off the case by Martinez’s defense attorney or Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office, which is prosecuting the case.

Martinez is free on his own recognizance under court-ordered conditions of release that include no consumption of alcohol.

He has indicated he plans to seek re-election to a new four-year term in 2020 and no challengers – either Democrats or Republicans – have emerged yet for the Senate District 5 seat.

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