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Judge rules AG can have ethics records in Griego case



SANTA FE – A state district judge has ruled the New Mexico Legislature’s administrative arm must turn over most records of an internal Senate ethics investigation into former state Sen. Phil Griego, who is facing criminal corruption charges.

District Judge Brett Loveless, in his order this week, said the Legislative Council Service has no “constitutional privilege” to refuse to produce the records, which include the original ethics complaint against Griego and correspondence about the investigation’s findings.

However, the judge did rule that some correspondence between the ethics panel and its lawyer is off-limits, due to attorney-client relationship.

Raúl Burciaga, the Legislative Council Service’s director, said in a statement Tuesday that the agency would comply with the judge’s order, which set a June 22 deadline for turning over the requested records to Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office.

“We will provide the documents to the Attorney General’s Office expeditiously,” Burciaga said. “We have already provided the attorney general with the evidence that was made public last year but believed it was incumbent upon us to assert the privilege on documents we viewed as being protected.”

Meanwhile, several top-ranking lawmakers said they’re not concerned about the judge’s ruling, which will allow the Attorney General’s Office to review documents from a legislative process for handling ethics complaints that’s primarily done behind closed doors.

“I don’t know whether it will make the Senate look bad or not,” Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said Tuesday. “We did the best we could with a tough situation.”

Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, sounded a similar tone, saying, “I think if a judge has said those records should be turned over, then that’s what should happen.”

Both Ingle and Papen also said they would have no qualms about testifying during a preliminary hearing in the Griego criminal case, should the Attorney General’s Office decide to call them as witnesses.

That’s despite a separate, and not yet resolved, motion filed by the Legislative Council Service that seeks to nullify subpoenas issued to lawmakers and legislative staffers. If approved, the motion could excuse them from having to testify at the preliminary hearing.

Griego, a Democrat from San Miguel County who served more than 18 years in the Senate, is accused of using his position as a legislator to make money in the sale of a historic state building in downtown Santa Fe. He resigned from the Senate in March 2015 instead of facing possible discipline as a result of the ethics investigation into his role in the building sale.

The AG’s Office filed bribery, perjury and other charges against Griego in February, and the preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled to start July 5. Griego has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Meanwhile, this week’s ruling on the Senate ethics probe records marks the latest chapter in a back-and-forth legal battle that’s played out as a precursor of sorts to the criminal proceedings.

District Judge Loveless had decided earlier this month to privately review the records before deciding whether they should have to be turned over to the Attorney General’s Office.

The AG’s Office had subpoenaed the investigation records earlier this year, but the Legislative Council Service fought the subpoena, arguing the documents are privileged and that the agency is “duty-bound to preserve and protect the independence and integrity of the Legislature.” The LCS provides bill-drafting and legal services to legislators.

Loveless, in his ruling, said an immunity provision in the state Constitution known as the “speech and debate clause” is not intended to promote confidentiality.

“Its purpose is neither to give the legislative branch supremacy nor to make its members super-citizens, immune from criminal responsibility,” Loveless wrote in his seven-page order.

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