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The trial has ended, closing arguments have been filed and a District Court judge is mulling over whether Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin can finish his term or be barred for life from holding public office.
Griffin is facing a lawsuit brought by three northern New Mexico residents that seeks to oust him from his post for violating a Civil War-era clause in the 14th Amendment that was intended to keep former Confederates from holding public office. The case against him is based on his role in the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, which Griffin attended, coupled with the fact that, as a commissioner, he swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.
A two-day bench trial was held earlier this month in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe before Judge Francis Mathew, who gave both sides until Aug. 29 to submit written closing arguments. He said he will announce a verdict within 10 days of receiving the court filings.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs said they proved the events on Jan. 6 met the definition of an insurrection and that Griffin had a prominent role in it.
“Non-violent members of the mob, including Griffin, camouflaged violent members of the mob contributed to law enforcement being overwhelmed by a ‘sea of potential threats,'” plaintiffs’ attorney Joe Goldberg and seven other attorneys wrote in the closing. “Griffin did more than just join the mob: he incited, encouraged, and helped normalize the mob’s violence on January 6.”
Griffin is among the hundreds of people who have been charged in connection with the mob. He was convicted earlier this year in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering a restricted area outside the U.S. Capitol.
He argued in a written closing that those seeking to remove him from public office “missed their mark” and failed to prove that the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was an insurrection.
Griffin asserted he wasn’t trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, but that he was at the Capitol to lobby that Vice President Mike Pence not certify the election results and instead “roll that vote back to the states for certification.”
“All well within the law and well inside the duties of those legislators involved,” he wrote. “In no way does that pertain to nor support insurrection/rebellion.”
Griffin also argued that a failed effort to recall him from his county commission seat shows his constituents still support him.
But the plaintiffs said Jan. 6 was a violent insurrection and marked the first time in American history people disrupted the peaceful transfer of power.
“The mob ultimately achieved what even the Confederates never did during the Civil War: they breached the Capitol building and seized the Capitol grounds,” they wrote.
Over the course of the two-day trial, plaintiffs’ attorneys called multiple witnesses, including Griffin, a Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia officer who defended the Capitol, a freelance photographer who filmed Griffin, and experts on threats to Democracy and constitutional history. They also played hours of footage of Griffin in the days leading up to, during and after the attack on the Capitol.
At least seven attorneys represented the plaintiffs. Laurence Tribe, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Harvard, and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, were among the authors for friend-of-the-court briefs submitted in the case. The NAACP and Common Cause, an organization that advocates for government accountability, filed briefs in the case, and attorneys for the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington were also part of the plaintiffs’ legal team.
Griffin represented himself in the case and didn’t call any witnesses. He said during his opening statement that he planned to appeal the judge’s verdict if he is barred from public office.
“The failed attempt of the plaintiffs to construe my words and present myself as an insurrectionist are purely political and have no place in the court of law,” Griffin wrote.