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NY Times targets King over contract lawyers

Gary King’s time in the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office caught the attention of The New York Times this week, with the paper turning a critical eye on the practice of AGs hiring contract lawyers to pursue lawsuits suggested by the same hired legal help.

King, who leaves the Attorney General’s Office at the end of the month, defended the practice in comments to the Times, saying the ability to hire contract attorneys boosts the AG’s ability to protect New Mexicans.

“It’s one of the only tools I have to level the playing field on behalf of consumers, given the significant financial firepower that big pharma, big banking and any number of other industries have,” King told the Times. “The attorney general is virtually the only protection the consumer has against abuse by those industries.”

Some AGs quoted by the Times were critical of the practice, including Colorado AG John Suthers, who called it “farming out the police powers of the state.”

The article highlighted communications in 2012 from former District of Columbia Attorney General Linda Singer – now a private attorney – to King pitching a potential AG’s Office lawsuit against a New Mexico nursing home. King’s office signed off on the lawsuit, according to the Times, and Singer’s law firm ultimately was hired as the contract attorney to prosecute the claim.

In another example of the national practice, the Times highlighted former New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid’s pitch to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, encouraging that state to file suit against a drug manufacturer and hire a private firm affiliated with Madrid to do the legal work.

Richardson’s Cuba: Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s 2011 attempt to win release of U.S. citizen Alan Gross from a Cuban prison caused a setback to the government’s effort to free the contractor, according to a White House official quoted by Politico.

Richardson, who has been involved in several successful prisoner release efforts over the years, was quoted on the Cuba trip by the Washington-based news organization as saying, “I screwed that one up.”

A former White House official told Politico that Richardson acted on his own and created hurdles for federal officials working through official channels to secure Gross’ release.

“Richardson decided he was going to go and save the day,” Politico quoted an anonymous former official saying. “He was freelancing.”

Gross, accused of being a spy for taking telephone equipment to the island, was released this week after the U.S. and Cuba agreed to restore diplomatic ties.

Partisan Party: The three Democrats elected to statewide offices last month – Hector Balderas as attorney general, Tim Eichenberg as treasurer and Tim Keller as auditor – are teaming up for a joint inauguration ceremony on Jan. 3.

Meanwhile, Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran is expected to join Republican Gov. Susana Martinez for their second-term inaugural ceremonies.

The decision to have the Democratic officials combine their swearings-in at the St. Francis Auditorium is proof Democrats are “united” in their efforts to counter their political opposition, state Democratic Party Director Jon Lipshutz said.

Traditionally, state officials have each held their own swearing-in ceremonies.