SANTA FE – The criminal case against Secretary of State Dianna Duran has taken new twists, with Duran’s attorney asking a judge late Wednesday to disqualify the office of Attorney General Hector Balderas from handling the case due to alleged bias and recent acrimony between the two statewide elected officials.
Meanwhile, Balderas has said his office will no longer represent the Secretary of State’s Office, returning 31 cases Duran’s office had referred to the AG for further investigation. Most of those cases involve instances in which candidates filed delinquent campaign finance reports.
The motion seeking to disqualify the AG’s Office from prosecuting Duran argues that Balderas has a conflict of interest due to his past working relationship with the secretary of state, while also arguing he appears to have a political “vendetta” against Duran.
“This perversion of the criminal justice system can be seen as nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to seek retribution of the most punitive kind against Ms. Duran,” the secretary of state’s lawyer wrote in the motion, which says Duran intends to call two lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office as witnesses in the case.
The motion also cites a judge’s 2011 decision to remove the office of then-Attorney General Gary King from the corruption case of former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron and three others.
Duran’s motion to have the Attorney General’s Office booted from the case was filed by fax late Wednesday but was not yet listed as having been formally received by the court. It came a day after Balderas decided to cut formal ties with the Secretary of State’s office, saying the criminal charges his office had filed against Duran had made a working relationship impractical.
“Although not made lightly, I believe that the decision to discontinue our legal representation of the SOS while the criminal proceedings are pending will facilitate the operations of both our offices,” Balderas wrote in a letter sent this week to Duran.
Duran’s attorney, Erlinda Johnson, said Wednesday that Balderas wrote the letter after she had notified lawyers in the Attorney General’s Office that she intended to file the motion seeking to have the AG’s Office removed from Duran’s prosecution.
An AG’s Office spokesman confirmed the timing late Wednesday but denied the attorney general had any conflict of interest in prosecuting the Duran case.
Under state law and practice, the attorney general provides legal advice and representation to the Secretary of State’s Office and various state agencies.
In his letter to Duran, Balderas said the Secretary of State’s Office will have to find other legal counsel, at least until the Attorney General’s Office re-establishes formal ties. He did not say when that might happen, though he suggested it will not be until the case against Duran is resolved.
However, a spokesman for the AG’s Office confirmed that the attorney general will continue investigating one case referred by the secretary of state – which involves alleged violations and discrepancies in the campaign filings of Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque.
“The Office of the Attorney General will continue to thoroughly review all criminal matters, and investigate and prosecute where appropriate, regardless of where or how we get the information,” AG’s Office spokesman James Hallinan said Wednesday. “Our expectation is that the secretary of state will find proper independent counsel to advise her office on civil enforcement matters.”
There has been friction in recent months between Duran, a Republican, and Balderas, a Democrat, over campaign finance reporting and enforcement.
A task force formed by the two this year met only twice, and Balderas ended up issuing final recommendations on his own to toughen the state’s Campaign Reporting Act. The two subsequently clashed over whether Balderas himself had filed late campaign reports several years ago.
District Judge Glenn Ellington is expected to rule on the disqualification motion and other motions filed in the case, on Oct. 23.
Duran pleaded not guilty last month to charges of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other crimes in connection with allegations that she used campaign contributions to cover personal spending at casinos.
The charges were filed Aug. 28 in District Court by the AG’s Office and list 64 violations. Although the amounts withdrawn at eight casinos run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, the counts against her revolve around 19 transactions totaling about $13,000.
Duran has resisted pressure to resign from her $85,000-a-year job, telling the Journal last week that she intends to focus on her job duties. A special legislative committee has been created to investigate the charges against Duran and weigh possible impeachment. The panel held its first meeting this week and has hired Albuquerque lawyer Robert Gorence as special counsel.