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Ethics complaint dismissed against NM speaker

The Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – A hearing officer for the State Ethics Commission has dismissed a complaint that accused House Speaker Brian Egolf of failing to disclose a conflict of interest when he pushed for civil rights legislation earlier this year.

In a nine-page opinion, the hearing officer – James Starzynski, a retired judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New Mexico – said the complaint failed to state the necessary facts to “support a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

The complaint, he noted, didn’t cite the state law that covers financial-disclosure requirements for legislators or any disclosures Egolf filed under that law. Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat, said he was pleased to hear of the ruling Wednesday. He believes the complaint was intended to interfere with his push to enact a state Civil Rights Act in the 2021 legislative session.

“I’m grateful for the decision,” Egolf said in an interview. “I perceived this at the time as something that was meant to distract me from my work and deter me from bringing forth legislation that will benefit every New Mexican by making our Bill of Rights finally enforceable in state court.”

The complaint was filed by retired state District Judge Sandra Price. She alleged Egolf – an attorney who practices civil law – and his law firm stood to benefit from passage of the Civil Rights Act because of their work on civil rights cases.

“I’m disappointed,” Price said of the ruling. “I feel there needs to be some mechanism to monitor actions by legislators that appear to be self-serving.”

The state Civil Rights Act, co-sponsored by Egolf and signed into law by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in April, allows the filing of lawsuits in state court to recover financial damages if a public agency or officer violates a person’s rights under the state Bill of Rights.

The law also bars qualified immunity as a defense to the claims, making New Mexico one of few states to ban the legal doctrine available in federal court.

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