Diplomacy keeps ex-governor from court hearing - Albuquerque Journal

Diplomacy keeps ex-governor from court hearing

SANTA FE – Former New Mexico governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson couldn’t attend a hearing in Santa Fe Municipal Court last month at which he pleaded no contest in a hit-and-run traffic case because he was addressing “a highly sensitive security issue involving a detained American,” according to court documents that were under seal until Friday.

Former Gov. Bill Richardson
RICHARDSON: Missed hearing on hit-and-run

The unsealed documents indicate Richardson was scheduled to be in New York City on the date of the hearing to meet with North Korean diplomat Jang Il-hun and a subordinate regarding a detained American.

At that time, two Americans were being held by the North Korean government: Kim Dong Chul, accused of espionage in 2015, and Otto Warmbier, who in March was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for “perpetrating a hostile act.” Warmbier was detained after taking a political banner from a North Korean hotel as a souvenir on Jan. 2.

Richardson was involved in a hit-and-run crash in downtown Santa Fe four days later while on his way to the Roundhouse to appear on MSNBC to discuss U.S. relations with North Korea. The broadcast came on the heels of North Korea’s reportedly testing a hydrogen bomb that it said gave it the capability to “wipe out the whole territory of the U.S. all at once.”

Retired District Judge Steven Pfeffer, who was standing in for Municipal Judge Virginia Vigil, had denied two previous motions for Richardson to make an audio appearance at the May hearing.

Pfeffer agreed to the third motion and sealed the court documents pertaining to the request for 30 days. The motion was not opposed by the city’s prosecutor.

Richardson’s attorney contended that if word of the meeting became public, it “could result in a chilling effect” on ongoing discussions.

If word leaked out, there was a good chance national media outlets would report the news, which “will have a direct and negative impact upon the potential for positive progress during the meeting, thereby prejudicing the overriding interest,” attorney Megan Dorsey argued.

Both Kim and Warmbier remain in North Korean custody.

In pleading no contest to the hit-and-run charge, Richardson was required to attend a defensive driving class, pay $56 in court fees, and write a letter of apology to the woman whose car he hit.

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