Tuesday, February 01, 2011
Lawyer's Discipline Deal Tossed
By Scott Sandlin
Journal Staff Writer
SANTA FE — The New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday rejected an agreement negotiated between a lawyer for the state Disciplinary Board and Rio Rancho lawyer and former judicial candidate Dennis Montoya.
The agreement called for a two-year suspension of Montoya's law license with 18 months deferred, during which Montoya would be on probation and supervised by a lawyer approved by disciplinary counsel.
But the agreement was brokered by a disciplinary board attorney who has since retired, and Joel Widman, the lawyer now in charge of the case, told the court he recommended against it. Widman said he had concerns because Montoya would be acting as a paralegal on the same cases as before and keeping his office open, although with the understanding he would have no client contact during the six-month suspension.
Montoya's attorney Charles Vigil said he had just learned in court of Widman's opposition to the deal, and Montoya said after the hearing he was "surprised by the complete change of position" by disciplinary counsel.
The four New Mexico justices hearing the case — Edward Chávez was absent — asked questions about the agreement and about other pending disciplinary matters against Montoya that have not yet been presented to the court. The tiny courtroom was packed, with many in the audience from a Hispanic rights group, and with former Court of Appeals Judge Ira Robinson on hand to support Montoya.
After a half-hour adjournment, Chief Justice Charles Daniels said the court had concerns about the agreement as presented. "We're not inclined to approve it as submitted," he said. Letting Montoya to go to the same office, with the same clients and staff and merely don a paralegal hat is "just not workable," he said. Daniels invited a response from Vigil for a change that would include more safeguards.
Montoya has indicated in court pleadings that he intends to run again for an unspecified judicial position.
He and the League of United Latin American Citizens sued two Discipinary Board officials last October in federal court, alleging that the disciplinary action against him constituted "politically motivated attacks on lawyers running for elective office."
The lawsuit, still pending, claims the disciplinary action was leaked to the media and timed in a way that quashed his chance to be elected to the New Mexico Court of Appeals. Montoya ran in the Democratic primary against Judge Linda Vanzi, who had reported alleged ethical breaches by Montoya two years earlier. Vanzi won the election.