SANTA FE – More than three weeks after he was hit with criminal charges for allegedly using his position as a legislator to make money in a real estate deal, former state Sen. Phil Griego has not been summoned to make a court appearance.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office is prosecuting the case against Griego, has apparently grown tired of waiting, and on Tuesday filed a request for an initial hearing to be held.
The slow start to the Griego case is largely due to its being a hot potato of sorts – four judges in the Santa Fe-based 1st Judicial District have already recused themselves from the high-profile case, court records show.
The case is now assigned to Judge Sylvia Lamar, but there’s no guarantee she’ll keep the case.
In its Tuesday motion, the Attorney General’s Office cited a court rule that generally stipulates defendants should be arraigned within 15 days after charges are filed against them.
Griego, a Democrat from San Miguel County, was originally charged Feb. 29 with nine crimes, including bribery, fraud, perjury and tampering with public records. Six of the charges are felony counts, while three are misdemeanors.
In a criminal information filed Tuesday, the AG’s Office added another felony charge: unlawful interest in a public contract. If convicted of all counts, Griego could face up to 28 years in prison and more than $40,000 in fines.
The criminal information also lists 41 witnesses who have cooperated in the case, including six legislators and several current or former state Cabinet secretaries.
Tom Clark, Griego’s attorney, said Tuesday that the former lawmaker will plead not guilty to the charges against him at arraignment.
“Our position is that Phil has committed no criminal wrongdoing,” Clark told the Journal .
He also said that Griego’s resignation from the Senate in 2015 – he was facing disciplinary action at the time – and acknowledgment that he violated a constitutional provision against legislators profiting from bills passed during their terms would have no bearing on the criminal case against him.
The real estate deal that landed Griego in hot water involved the sale of a historic state-owned building to a private buyer. Griego didn’t disclose any interest in the sale when lawmakers were voting on it, but he later received a $50,000 broker’s fee for monitoring its proceedings.
Meanwhile, each of the four judges who have recused themselves in the Griego case have merely listed “other good cause” as their reason for recusal, according to court filings.
If no judge in Santa Fe District Court is able to handle the case, New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Vigil will appoint a pro tempore judge to take it, Barry Massey, communications officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said Tuesday.
Such a judge could be either a retired judge or a judge from a different judicial district.
This year, there have been 45 instances of judges in the 1st Judicial District recusing themselves, court records show. The Griego case was the only one in which more than one judge had filed for recusal.