While Attorney General Hector Balderas cleared Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg of criminal charges for her involvement in property crime cases in which her son was a suspect, he chastised her for creating “an appearance of impropriety” by contacting victims and reimbursing one of them.
The AG also took the Albuquerque Police Department to task for its handling of the Brandenburg investigation and for making it public shortly after referring it to the AG’s Office late last year. APD said it sought advice from the AG because it wanted guidance and Brandenburg’s office was off-limits for obvious reasons.
Brandenburg has maintained she did nothing wrong, and her attorney noted she had referred prior cases involving her son to District Attorney Lemuel Martinez, whose judicial district covers Sandoval, Valencia and Cibola counties.
Balderas’ letter said the file on Brandenburg initially was scheduled to be turned over to the AG on Jan. 1 but instead was forwarded to former AG Gary King on Nov. 25. The investigation into Justin Koch that led to Brandenburg’s interaction with witness/victims in the case started long before the shooting death of homeless camper James Boyd. But the file was sent to the AG’s office after Brandenburg had notified attorneys for two APD officers that she planned to file charges against them in the March 2014 shooting death of Boyd.
The timing raised questions for Balderas about APD’s motivations, not only in deciding when to refer the case to the attorney general, but also in deciding to pursue an investigation into Brandenburg in the first place. APD started its investigation into Brandenburg in June 2013, completed it in July 2014 but didn’t send it to the AG until late November.
However, the Journal had filed an Inspection of Public Records Act request for the file – which APD initially denied – more than a month before it was sent to King. APD released the file to King before it produced it to the Journal in early December in response to a letter from the newspaper’s lawyers.
The Journal took the position that releasing the file was the right decision under the law and something APD was required to do. Stonewalling would only have prompted outcry about flouting the law and a coverup.
Under the alternative reality, conduct by the DA that Balderas found to be out of line possibly would have been buried forever.
Ultimately, APD should not be faulted for following evidence wherever it leads – even if that is to high places – or for following the state’s IPRA law.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.