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Case Against PRC Official Heads Back to Court

SANTA FE, N.M. — After 15 months in legal limbo, the state’s corruption case against a member of the Public Regulation Commission is going back to court.

The secretary of state fined commissioner Jerome D. Block Jr. for campaign malfeasance in the 2008 election. Then a district judge in February 2010 dismissed two related criminal charges against Block, finding that he could not be punished again for those same campaign violations.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King challenged the ruling, and the state Court of Appeals will hear arguments May 19 on whether the charges against Block should be reinstated.

Block, 34, will be fighting for his political life and his $90,000-a-year job as a member of the Public Regulation Commission.

He declined to comment on the hearing, saying through a spokeswoman that he did not want to talk about personal matters.

Block, of Santa Fe, has served the first half of a four-year term with the criminal case hanging over him. His troubles began during his candidacy in 2008.

He admitted lying about a $2,500 campaign expense paid for from a taxpayer-financed account.

Block falsely reported to the state that the money went for a country band that performed at a campaign rally.

Block later admitted that he had lied. Then-Secretary of State Mary Herrera fined him $11,700 and required him to return $10,000 in campaign funds.

She imposed the penalty before the election, but Block won anyway. His father, Jerome Block Sr., once held a seat on the commission, so he may have benefitted from name recognition even as the scandal unfolded.

The fines that Herrera levied against Block became part of his criminal defense.

His lawyers argued that the Voter Action Act gave the secretary of state the power to fine Block or turn the case over to the attorney general. But the state could not do both, the defense said.

District Judge Michael Vigil agreed, ruling that the law specified either a fine or a criminal prosecution.

Vigil dismissed a felony charge that Block conspired to violate the election code. The judge also dismissed a misdemeanor election code violation, court records show.

King, though, disagreed with the judge’s interpretation of the law and appealed.

Vigil let stand four other charges against Block, according to court records. They are tampering with evidence, conspiracy to commit a crime and two counts of embezzlement.

That portion of the case also has been dormant pending the state’s appeal.

The state also obtained a grand jury indictment against Jerome Block Sr., who prepared his son’s campaign finance reports.

He was charged with four crimes, two of which stood after Vigil’s ruling. They are conspiracy and tampering with evidence.