ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The attorney general’s appeal of a lower-court ruling dismissing key criminal charges against Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. and his father for alleged misuse of taxpayer-financed election funds in 2008 is under review by the state appellate court.
Court of Appeals Judges Jonathan Sutin, Cynthia Fry and Roderick Kennedy heard oral arguments from attorneys representing the attorney general and Block Jr. on Thursday. Sutin said the case would be taken under advisement.
At issue is whether the Attorney General’s Office exceeded its authority in prosecuting Block, who won election to the PRC in 2008, and his father, former PRC member Jerome Block Sr., for alleged campaign violations after Block Jr. had already been fined by the secretary of state.
Then-Secretary of State Mary Herrera fined Block Jr. $11,700 and required him to return $10,000 in campaign funds after he used $2,500 from his taxpayer-financed campaign fund to pay for what he officially reported was a country-western band’s performance at a campaign rally. He later said the performance never took place.
Block Sr. prepared his son’s campaign finance reports.
The Blocks were charged under the Voter Action Act, which provides state government financing for the campaigns of PRC candidates.
District Judge Michael Vigil last year dismissed two counts each of charges against Block Jr. — violating the election code and conspiracy to commit that crime.
He also dismissed charges against Block Sr. of violation of the election code and conspiracy.
He agreed with the defense that under the wording of the act, the secretary of state can either “impose a fine or transmit the finding to the attorney general for prosecution,” but not both, in cases of violations.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Montgomery argued Thursday the Voter Action Act does not limit the attorney general’s authority and that he is authorized by law to prosecute any action he deems required in the state’s interest.
Block Jr.’s attorney Cammie Nichols said the Legislature explicitly gave the secretary the discretion to decide the most appropriate course of action for dealing with violations, whether to fine or refer the case for prosecution.
The Blocks still face other charges, but the case has been holding pending the state’s appeal.