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Updated: Curry County Settles Campaign Material Dispute

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two residents had sued over showing video in courthouse lobby before last November’s bond election.

Curry County has agreed not to display campaign material in the courthouse during early elections, settling a court action brought by two county citizens, the Clovis News Journal reported.
        Specifically, the county agreed it would “not allow or place video, brochures, posters or allow its employees or agents to campaign in the courthouse during early voting,” state District Judge Charles Currier in Roswell said during a Feb. 28 hearing, according to an audio recording obtained by the News Journal.

In November, about a week before the general election, Al Lewis and J.W. Graham asked for a court injunction forcing the county to remove what it called an informational video about two upcoming bond issues — a video that played continuously in the courthouse lobby, the News Journal said.

The county removed the video and other associated material prior to the election, but Lewis and Graham continued with their case because they said they wanted a ruling for guidance in future elections, the paper reported.

Lewis told the News Journal he was pleased with the settlement but said he’s disappointed he had to go to court at all.

County Attorney Steve Doerr repeated his prior assertions that the purpose of the video was to be helpful and informative for the public and was not to campaign and that, in any case, the applicable law covers campaigning in the clerk’s office, not the courthouse, the News Journal said.

“I don’t think it violates any of the voting statutes act,” Doerr told the paper.

The bond issues, which aimed at increasing property and gross-receipts taxes to pay for a $33 million first phase of an estimated $90 million judicial complex, was overwhelmingly defeated when 73 percent of the voters rejected the measures, the News Journal said.

7:20am 11/23/10 — Roswell Judge To Hear Curry Co. Courthouse Video Case: High court steps in after five Curry, Roosevelt judges recuse themselves.


A state district judge in Roswell has been assigned to preside over a case filed by two Clovis men alleging that Curry County violated election laws by placing a video in the courthouse lobby days before a bond issue election seeking tax increases to fund a new $33 million jail and courthouse complex, the Clovis News Journal reported.

The New Mexico Supreme Court assigned state District Judge Charles C. Currier to hear the case after five judges in Curry and Roosevelt counties recused themselves, the News Journal said.

Residents Al Lewis and J.W. Graham filed a petition on Oct. 25 seeking to have the video removed or to allow contradictory information to be posted, arguing that the video violated state law prohibiting campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place, the newspaper reported.

Curry County Attorney Jonlyn Martinez filed a motion to dismiss the petition on Nov. 9, saying the case was moot because the county removed the video on Oct. 27, saying there is “no actual controversy for the court to decide,” the News Journal said.

Lewis said he and Graham are going ahead with the case because they want a court ruling on the matter should the matter come up again, the paper reported.

More than 72 percent of voters who cast ballots on Election Day voted against the two bond issues on the courthouse complex, according to the News Journal.


9:20am 11/9/10 — Petitioners Still Want Ruling in Courthouse Video Case: Video was removed before Curry Co. voters defeated judicial complex measures.

A controversial video was pulled from the Curry County courthouse lobby after two Clovis residents petitioned for an injunction to have the video removed for allegedly promoting a new $33 million courthouse and jail complex, but one of the petitioners told the Clovis News Journal he doesn’t want the case dropped.

Al Lewis told the News Journal that he still wants a judge to rule in the case so it doesn’t happen again.

“We just want a decision made by the courts that the county did overstep their bounds in what they tried to do, and that this was politically motivated, so we can keep it from happening again,” Lewis told the paper.

“They were just thinking it was going to go away (when they turned the video off) … We’re not looking out for any monetary decision or anything like that; we’re just askeing for them to have to abide by the same rules that we have to abide by,” Lewis said.

The video was taken down days before the Nov. 2 election where Curry County voters overwhelmingly defeated two bond issues which would have raised property and gross-receipts taxes to build new courthouse and jail.

Critics said the video promoted voter approval of the $33 million judicial complex proposal, but county officials said the video was “informational” only and didn’t recommend a yes vote on the measures, the News Journal said.

Albuquerque attorney Jonlyn Martinez, who is representing Curry County in the case, told the News Journal that when the county removed the video the dispute was ended, and that under the statute under which the petition was filed, the case was closed.

“There is no controversy between the parties, so it becomes a moot point,” said Martinez, who said she will file a motion this week asking that the petition be formally dismissed, the paper reported.



7:30am 10/28/10 — Controversial Video Removed from Curry Co. Courthouse: County says display had become a ‘distraction’ from next Tuesday’s bond vote.

A controversial video on the need for a new $33 million courthouse and jail complex was turned off at the Curry County courthouse Wednesday afternoon, the Clovis News Journal reported.

County Attorney Stephen Doerr said the county decided to remove the display because the controversy surrounding the video in the courthouse lobby had become a distraction to next Tuesday’s vote on two bond questions to pay for the proposed judicial complex, the News Journal said.

Two Clovis residents on Monday filed a petition seeking an injunction to have the video removed or to allow competing information to be posted, alleging that the video violated state law prohibiting electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place, the paper reported.

“It was becoming a distraction to the issues in this election,” said Doerr, who said officials decided to “stop the video and let the focus be on the election and not the video,” the News Journal said.

Doerr said the county hasn’t changed its position on the legality of the video, but he said dragging the issue out through litigation “may not be the best way to handle all disputes in our society,” the paper reported.



9:25am 10/26/10 — Two Clovis Men Want Video Out of Courthouse Lobby: Opponents of courthouse expansion bond on ballot say video is ‘electioneering.’

Two Clovis men filed a petition in state District Court Monday seeking to force Curry County officials to remove a video about the proposed $33 million judicial complex from the courthouse lobby, the Clovis News Journal reported.


Al Lewis and J.W. Graham, both vocal opponents of the bond question on the ballot next Tuesday, claim in their petition that a taxpayer-funded video urging passage of the bond issue violates state law prohibiting campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place, the News Journal said.

Early and absentee voting is being conducted in the county clerk’s office, which is located south of where the video is being played, along the same hallway in the courthouse, the paper reported.

Attorney Eric Dixon, who filed the petition, said his clients are not seeking money, but only want to see the situation addressed, the News Journal said.

County Attorney Stephen Doerr said Monday he hadn’t seen the petition and declined comment, according to the News Journal.

County Manager Lance Pyle, who didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment, has said he approved the video along with County Commissioner Wendell Bostwick and that the video is “informational,” not promotional, the paper reported.

County Clerk Connie Jo Lyman told the News Journal that she does not believe her office constitutes a polling place just because early and absentee ballots are accepted there.

The county has two bond questions on the Nov. 2 General Election ballot — one that would increase property taxes to pay for construction of a $16.5 million courthouse, and the other that would raise gross receipts taxes by a quarter of a percent to raise revenue for construction of a new jail, the News Journal said.