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SANTA FE – The State Ethics Commission decided 5-0 on Friday to dismiss parts of an ethics complaint filed against House Speaker Brian Egolf and refer them instead to a legislative ethics committee.
The dismissal applies to allegations that Egolf, D-Santa Fe, used the powers of his office to obtain personal benefit and failed to ethically discharge his duties as a legislator – allegations that he has vigorously denied.
The commission didn’t announce a decision on a third component of the complaint – that Egolf had failed to disclose a conflict of interest.
The complaint centers on Egolf’s work as a private attorney and his push to enact civil rights legislation.
A proposal to establish a New Mexico Civil Rights Act – House Bill 4, co-sponsored by Egolf – won legislative approval last month and is awaiting action by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Sandra Price, a retired state district judge, filed the complaint in February, alleging Egolf and his law firm stood to benefit from passage of the bill because of their work on civil rights cases.
The State Ethics Commission didn’t explain its decision Friday.
But Jeremy Farris, the commission’s executive director, notified Price and Egolf last month that he had determined parts of the complaint are outside the agency’s jurisdiction.
He cited a provision in the state Constitution that provides some immunity to members of the Legislature and prohibits questioning them “in any other place for speech or debate or for any vote cast in either house,” language Farris said keeps the Ethics Commission from ruling on a complaint that hinges on a legislative act, such as a vote.
But Farris added that the Legislature itself can discipline members for violations of the Governmental Conduct Act – an interpretation that would explain why parts of the Egolf complaint were referred to the Interim Legislative Ethics Committee, a panel made up of lawmakers.
As for the third part of the ethics complaint – accusing Egolf of failure to disclose a conflict of interest – Farris said last month that the allegation would be reviewed by the commission’s general counsel.
Andrew Schultz, an attorney representing Egolf, said he was pleased to hear from a reporter that the commission had followed the recommendation to “dismiss the majority of the claims against the speaker.”