Judge rejects Gonzales’ latest bid for public campaign funds

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

A state judge ruled Tuesday that the Albuquerque city clerk has fulfilled his obligation to give Sheriff Manuel Gonzales due process in his public financing fight, thus upholding the clerk’s decision to deny the sheriff about $600,000 in taxpayer money for his mayoral campaign.

Judge Bryan Biedscheid of the 1st Judicial District ruled in August that Watson had not provided the sheriff necessary due process before initially rejecting Gonzales’ application for the money.

But Watson had fixed that by holding a recent hearing for Gonzales, said Biedscheid, who shot down the sheriff’s arguments that the hearing was insufficient and that Watson was biased.

“The city clerk did provide the due process required by the court, so that deficiency has been cured, and the city clerk’s decision following that will stand,” Biedscheid said.

The clerk initially denied Gonzales’ application July 9, but Biedscheid’s August ruling required Watson to revisit that decision.

Watson responded by holding a hearing Sept. 1, inviting Gonzales to address evidence that he violated public campaign financing code and regulations. Gonzales’ attorney used most of the proceeding to instead argue that the hearing was “a sham”; attorney Daniel Gallegos reiterated claims that Watson – whose position as clerk is linked to incumbent Mayor Tim Keller’s time in office – was not an impartial decision-maker.

After the hearing, Watson once again denied Gonzales public campaign financing, saying the sheriff’s campaign had submitted forged documentation and violated other rules while attempting to qualify for the money.

The sheriff had asked Biedscheid to rehear the case.

During a proceeding Tuesday, Biedscheid said he was not going to consider new evidence but rather determine whether Watson had complied with the order he issued last month.

He determined Watson had. Although Gonzales’ attorney argued that he had not been able to cross-examine any witnesses during the hearing, Biedscheid said the hearing met the necessary standards of due process he had ordered.

“Essentially Mr. Gonzales has wanted two things throughout this proceeding, which is, one, instantaneous decision-making and, (two), the most elaborate trappings of full criminal prosecution and the like, and you cannot provide both of those,” the judge said. “I think this court has been in a position similar to that which the clerk was in, and that is a position of trying to balance the need for expedited proceedings and the need to make sure everyone has due process and the right to respond.”

The judge also dismissed arguments that Watson was too biased to treat Gonzales fairly.

“While much is made and much effort is expended trying to paint Mr. Watson as the instrument of the mayor, that is not legally true,” Biedscheid said. “He is the Albuquerque city clerk that has been vested with authority and duties under Albuquerque ordinances.”

Gonzales called it a “bad” and “unethical” decision but said he would move past it by switching his campaign to private financing.

“What’s going to make it right is we’re going to get mobilized,” he said.

City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. said in a statement that months of legal wrangling have only served to reinforce Watson’s initial decision.

“Little has changed after candidate Gonzales unnecessarily wasted city and judicial time and resources on complaints that have been proven over and over to be unfounded,” Aguilar said. “The city clerk’s authority regarding his decision on the campaign’s fraudulent submission of documents has been upheld once again.”

The city has used outside attorneys to aid the clerk this election cycle, and they have billed over $50,000, most of it for work on the Gonzales case, a city spokesman said.

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