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A New Mexico judge has ruled Couy Griffin be immediately removed from his seat on the Otero County Commission for violating a clause in the U.S. Constitution that prohibits people who have participated in an insurrection from holding public office.
The decision on Tuesday marked the first time since 1869 that someone was removed from public office for violating a clause in the 14th Amendment that was intended to keep former Confederates from holding elected positions, according to a news release from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which was part of the plaintiffs’ legal team.
The ruling comes after Griffin last month represented himself in a civil bench trial before Judge Francis Mathew in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe.
Marco Alarid White and Leslie Lakind of Santa Fe and Mark Mitchell of Los Alamos brought the case against Griffin, which centered on his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of election results.
“It was great to see the judge put it so plainly that what happened on Jan. 6 was an insurrection,” White said in an interview Tuesday.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs praised the ruling, saying it may set a precedent nationwide.
“Judge Mathew’s decision is fully supported by the facts and the law and justice achieves a needed measure of accountability,” said Joe Goldberg, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Griffin said he would appeal the decision. He said he has no remorse for his actions on Jan. 6. He contends he was peacefully protesting that day.
Griffin said he was sorry that some people acted violently that day.
“I’m shocked that this can happen in our country, an elected representative can be removed from office in a civil trial by one liberal, Democrat judge,” said Griffin, a Republican and the founder of Cowboys for Trump.
Griffin said he was notified of his removal from office by Otero County staff, who prevented him from accessing his work computer and office space at a county building in Alamogordo.
Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said the governor will appoint someone to finish the remainder of Griffin’s term, which runs through the end of the year. He wasn’t seeking reelection.
Lawyers from throughout the country submitted briefs in support of the plaintiffs. Laurence Tribe, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at Harvard University, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law, were among authors of 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, as well.
Mathew said Griffin’s attempt to sanitize his actions were contrary to the evidence. He also ruled that the events of Jan. 6 met the definition of an insurrection against the country.
“His protestations and his characterizations of his actions and the events of January 6, 2021, are not credible and amounted to nothing more than attempting to put lipstick on a pig,” Mathew said in the ruling.
The judge also said in the 49-page court filing that Griffin wasn’t a credible witness and often made contradictory statements throughout the case.
Earlier this year, Griffin was convicted of a misdemeanor in federal court for entering a restricted area during the Jan. 6 attack. He was sentenced to 14 days in jail. Evidence used in the civil trial against him included footage of Griffin climbing into restricted areas and encouraging protesters who were there that day.
CREW said the decision also marks the first time that a judge ruled the events of Jan. 6 were an insurrection.
“This is a historic win for accountability for the January 6th insurrection and the efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in the United States. Protecting American democracy means ensuring those who violate their oaths to the Constitution are held responsible,” said CREW President Noah Bookbinder. “This decision makes clear that any current or former public officials who took an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution and then participated in the January 6th insurrection can and will be removed and barred from government service for their actions.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.