Taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $90,000 – and more – in legal fees and costs owed to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico in its successful public records fight to compel then-Secretary of State Dianna Duran to provide the proof behind her claims of voter fraud by foreign nationals, the state Court of Appeals has ruled. An appeals panel found the legal tab was “reasonable” after a lawsuit filed by ACLU turned up public documents that Duran’s office had improperly withheld after the group filed requests under the state Inspection of Public Records Act. In the end, no actual “voter fraud” list was produced.
The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office lost another court battle Wednesday, and as a result, state taxpayers face a bill of more than $90,000. The case stems from former Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s since-discredited claims in 2011 that 117 foreign nationals had illegally registered to vote in New Mexico and that 37 of those had actually cast ballots. In a long-running lawsuit over legal fees in a public records case filed against Duran in 2011 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the state Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 District Court decision that the ACLU is entitled to more than $87,000 in legal fees from the Secretary of State’s Office. That figure does not include subsequent legal fees from the appeals process.
Just months into her stint as New Mexico secretary of state, Dianna Duran made Fox News, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times after announcing her office had discovered more than three dozen foreign nationals had fraudulently voted in New Mexico elections. “This culture of corruption that has given all New Mexicans a black eye is unacceptable,” Duran was quoted as saying in a March 2011 press release. But a protracted public records lawsuit filed by the ACLU of New Mexico revealed no voter fraud lists existed, although other records were produced. And now taxpayers may be on the hook for more than $90,000 in attorney fees and costs awarded to ACLU lawyers who won the case.
New Mexico’s former secretary of state Dianna Duran pleaded guilty on Friday to embezzlement and money laundering for using campaign contributions to pay gambling debts. She had resigned hours earlier, one of the terms of a plea agreement that, if approved by the judge, could spare her prison time. Speaking to reporters after her appearance before Judge T. Glenn Ellington of State District Court, Ms. Duran said, “I realized that I made some choices that were not healthy, and I will be seeking professional help.” Later, she said she had made her decision to plead guilty “in the best interests of my family and all New Mexicans.” Her sentencing has been scheduled for Dec. 14.
New Mexico: Attorney General’s office files new felony identify theft charge against Dianna Duran | Albuquerque Journal
Attorney General Hector Balderas’s office has tacked another criminal charge onto its case against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, alleging the person Duran listed as her campaign treasurer during her 2010 election bid — former state Sen. Don Kidd — did not know his name was being used and had no role in verifying Duran’s campaign reports. In addition, the AG’s office filed notice it intends to seek an enhancement to any possible sentence handed down to Duran under a high-profile but untested 2012 public corruption bill. The legal salvos capped off a week in which Duran’s attorney filed a motion to have the Attorney General’s Office disqualified from prosecuting the Duran case and Balderas moved to cut formal ties between the two offices, pending the case’s outcome.
The New Mexico secretary of state, who oversees campaign finance reporting and once bemoaned a “culture of corruption” in the state, has been accused of using her election fund as a personal piggy bank at jewelry stores, ATMs and casinos. Secretary of State Dianna K. Duran already faces allegations of financial crimes, stemming from a separate August indictment. Late Friday, the New Mexico attorney general’s office alleged in a criminal complaint that Duran also falsified campaign finance reports by forging the name of a former state Senate colleague and claiming him as her campaign treasurer. The onetime colleague, Don Kidd, a banker in southeast New Mexico, denied any involvement with Duran’s campaigns in 2010 and 2014.
The House Special Investigatory Committee met Monday for the first time to investigate fraud, embezzlement and money laundering charges against New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran and gave its chair members the authority to hire a lawyer. The mood was somber and serious as the panel of five Republicans and five Democrats discussed whether the accusations and possible violations of elections laws should lead to her impeachment. “We have a bipartisan committee who’s going to look at all the facts and look at if not only is there criminal violations – but are there ethical violations that have compromised her ability to perform her duties,” said Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuqerque, a member of the committee.
New Mexico: Dianna Duran wants more time to mount defense; AG’s Office says request misguided | Albuquerque Journal
Secretary of State Dianna Duran is asking for an extension to mount her defense against corruption charges, arguing in a court motion filed this week that more time is needed to further review whether Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office violated New Mexico grand jury laws and Duran’s right to privacy in its investigation. Among other allegations raised in the motion filed in District Court in Santa Fe, Duran’s attorney claimed the Attorney General’s Office appears to have accessed information about Duran’s personal banking accounts without having a court order or subpoena.
Shortly following Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s first court appearance Tuesday morning, state lawmakers approved a House subcommittee to consider impeaching her. Lawmakers in the interim Legislative Council, which is made up of members of both the House and Senate, approved $250,000 in funding to pay for the impeachment special committee. The funding will likely go towards the hire of outside counsel. State House of Representatives Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, appointed a panel of bipartisan lawmakers to investigate whether Duran should be impeached last week. He told committee members that he anticipated the panel would want money to spend on lawyers. Tripp also made the committee members official during the Legislative Council meeting.
Embattled New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran entered a not guilty plea today to charges of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other crimes for allegedly using campaign contributions to cover personal spending at casinos. Duran was stoic during the 30-minute appearance before District Judge Glenn Ellington. She did not speak to reporters while leaving the courthouse through a side exit, and her husband at one point pushed away a television reporter’s microphone. During the hearing, Duran’s attorney raised several technical complaints about the charges filed against Duran, but the judge rejected motions to dismiss part or all of the case.
One of New Mexico’s highest-ranking state officials is expected to enter a plea Tuesday to charges that she funneled campaign contributions to her personal bank accounts and withdrew large sums of money at casinos. Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran is due in district court to be arraigned on 64 counts of embezzlement, fraud, money laundering and other charges. The charges involve a total of $13,000 in campaign donations. It will mark her first public appearance since the charges were leveled in a complaint more than two weeks ago. She has also been a no-show at her $85,000-a-year elected post with the exception of some conference calls with staff.
New Mexico House Speaker Don Tripp said Wednesday that a bipartisan committee has been created to investigate charges against Secretary of State Dianna Duran and to consider whether to recommend impeachment. Democrat Gail Chasey of Albuquerque and Republican Zach Cook of Ruidoso will serve as co-chairs of the 10-member special committee. Ms. Duran, a second-term Republican, faces a 64-count criminal indictment accusing her of funneling about $13,000 in campaign contributions to personal bank accounts and withdrawing large sums of money while frequenting casinos around the state.
As state lawmakers continue to take steps toward possibly impeaching Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, legislators and their staffs have only a few recent legal cases as well as vague constitutional language to draw from. Duran, who faces criminal charges on 64 counts of fraud, money laundering and other crimes related to her campaign finances, would be the first statewide elected official impeached by the Legislature if the process goes through. Recent impeachment proceedings against then state treasurer Robert Vigil in 2005 and Public Regulation Commission member Jerome Block Jr. in 2011 were cut short when the implicated officials resigned.
A New Mexico legislative committee plans to start spadework next week on impeachment proceedings against embattled Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who is accused of funneling campaign contributions to personal bank accounts. No public official has been impeached in state history. Impeachment proceedings were started 10 years ago against state Treasurer Robert Vigil and again in 2011 against Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr. In each case, the process was halted after the officials resigned their posts. Democratic Rep. Ken Martinez of Grants co-chaired the Vigil impeachment panel and tells the Albuquerque Journal that impeachment proceedings are grave and “very difficult.”
House Speaker Don Tripp said late Wednesday that he will create a special legislative panel to investigate the criminal charges against Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a move that marks the first step toward possible impeachment proceedings. The House speaker, a Socorro Republican, did not specify who would be appointed to the House panel, but said it would be made up of either 8 or 10 members, with an equal number of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. He also sent a letter to Attorney General Hector Balderas on Wednesday, asking that evidence from the case be made available to the committee. “Given the serious nature of the allegations made by the attorney general against the secretary of state, I believe the appropriate and responsible next step for the House of Representatives is to begin the process of determining whether these charges have merit and rise to the level of impeachment,” Tripp said in a statement.
New Mexico: House speaker: Committee to investigate charges against Duran | The Santa Fe New Mexican
New Mexico House Speaker Don Tripp on Wednesday notified legislative leaders and state Attorney General Hector Balderas that he plans to form a committee to begin the process of impeaching Secretary of State Dianna Duran, whom Balderas charged late last week with 64 criminal counts, including embezzlement, fraud and tampering with public records. This “special committee,” said Tripp, a Socorro Republican, will try to determine whether there is enough evidence to impeach Duran, who is in her second term overseeing the office that administers election and campaign finance laws, among other duties. The case against Duran, filed late last week by Balderas, centers on allegations that she illegally transferred thousands of dollars in campaign funds to her personal bank accounts and falsified her own campaign finance reports. Tripp asked Balderas to share his case file on Duran with the committee after it is formed.
New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran faced escalating pressure Monday to resign, as a slew of criminal charges related to her alleged use of campaign contributions to pay for personal expenses, including gambling debt, threatened to put an end to a nearly 30-year run in elected office. Top-ranking House Democrats said they were prepared to take the first steps in a possible impeachment effort if Duran did not resign, while Republican lawmakers also voiced concern about the seriousness of the charges leveled against Duran. House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro, called the impeachment talk premature but said Duran’s alleged withdrawal of hundreds of thousands of dollars at casinos around the state raised concern about a possible gambling addiction, calling the situation a “personal tragedy. I’m confident the secretary of state will take personal responsibility for any mistakes she made,” Tripp told the Journal. However, Duran’s attorney said late Monday that the secretary of state is preparing to fight the charges.
Democrats and Republicans locked in highly charged battles over problems at the Albuquerque Public Schools and the work of the state auditor, among other issues, put their guns down over the weekend, at least temporarily, after Secretary of State Dianna Duran was charged with abusing the New Mexico’s campaign finance system. The allegations come from the office of Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat who accuses Duran, a Republican, of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other charges. Duran allegedly used funds intended for her campaign instead for personal use — apparently including gambling. Instead of responding to the charges by accusing Balderas of partisan motives, the state’s top Republicans issued statements that some interpreted as placing distance between themselves and Duran — or at least not wanting to be viewed as defending her.
Secretary of State Dianna Duran was charged Friday in state District Court with fraud, embezzlement, money laundering and other crimes related to allegedly converting thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to her personal use in 2013 and 2014. At the same time, it appears she was frequenting casinos across the state and withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars at them from accounts in her name. Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas alleged 64 violations in a criminal complaint and information that said Duran shifted money between campaign and personal accounts and withdrew sums at eight casinos. Duran is a Republican in her second term; she was elected in 2010 and re-elected last year. The secretary of state, who oversees elections and campaign finance, has the role of state government ethics regulator.
Just a few months after announcing a task force to overhaul campaign finance practices in New Mexico, state officials are still not clear on how many violations are being investigated. “We are currently in the process of compiling our list of candidates still out of compliance for referral to the Attorney General at this time,” Ken Ortiz, chief of staff and spokesman for Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s office, said in an email Friday. Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office released one violation referral from Duran on Friday. More are expected to be disclosed by June 10, the Daily Times in Farmington reported.
If you haven’t voted in the last two major elections and still want to be a registered voter, you may want to make a visit or call the county clerk’s office before the next election. According to County Clerk Rosalie Riley, the clerk’s office was instructed by Gov. Susana Martinez to remove from its list any voters who have not recently participated in an election. “It was mandatory by the state,” Riley said. “We had 3,230 names on our list to purge, and we’ve only had eight on that list who were saved.” The list, according to Riley, came from New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran.
New Mexico: House OKs voter ID bill that was previously blocked in committee | The Santa Fe New Mexican
In the past, it was almost an annual ritual in the New Mexico House of Representatives: Republicans would introduce bills to require most voters to show photo identification at the polls, and Democrats would vote them down in committee. But early Tuesday morning, what would have been impossible before the GOP took control of the House in the last election actually happened: The House passed a voter ID bill. At about 1:30 a.m., after a three-hour debate, the House voted 36-26 along party lines to pass House Bill 340, sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad. It now goes to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it is bound to have a tougher time.
Tension between the two former secretary of state candidates played out in a state House committee hearing over a bill that would give New Mexico’s top elections administrator authority in preventing nonbinding advisory questions from inclusion on ballots. The bill, introduced by Rep. Zach Cook, R-Lincoln, stems from the inclusion of what amount to polling questions, that carry no legal weight, placed on ballots by three counties for last year’s November elections. In September, the state Supreme Court granted Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties a petition to include a question on the statewide November ballot asking voters whether they supported marijuana decriminalization.
State Rep. Eliseo Alcon held up his right hand where everyone in the room could see it and squeezed his thumb and forefinger tightly together. It was his demonstration to show exactly how negligible the problem of voter fraud is in New Mexico, in his estimation. Alcon, D-Milan, summed up the objections several groups had expressed Saturday to two proposals that would require voters to present identification documents before casting ballots. Opponents argued that the legislation would chill participation in elections — particularly among women, minority groups and senior citizens — when its aim is to thwart voter fraud, an activity that there’s scant evidence of in the state. “Neither one of these bills do anything but hurt a small percentage of people” who are eligible to vote but don’t possess identification cards with photos, Alcon said. But neither critics of the proposals nor New Mexico’s Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who backed the more rigid of the two plans considered by the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, got their way.
New Mexico: Secretary of State withholds support for voter ID bill that doesn’t require photos | Farmington Daily Times
Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who was re-elected in November after stressing her support for a photo identification requirement at polling places, is not supporting a bipartisan voter ID bill crafted by a Republican House member and a Democratic senator. Instead, she favors a more restrictive bill. In a memo issued Thursday, titled “Secretary of State’s Office 2015 Legislative Priorities,” Duran’s staff wrote that House Bill 61, sponsored by Rep. Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, “allows for something less than full photo voter ID.” A yet-to-be-introduced bill by Republican Rep. Cathrynn Brown of Carlsbad, however, “does propose full photo ID,” according to the memo, which said Duran’s office “worked with Rep. Brown on the drafting of her bill.” Brown said Friday that her bill is still in the drafting stage. Smith is the newly appointed chairman of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee — to which all voter ID bills will be referred.
Incumbent state Land Commissioner Ray Powell asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to temporarily halt an automatic recount of votes in the contested land commissioner race, alleging the state Canvassing Board has violated state law and the election code. The last unofficial election results showed Powell, a Democrat, losing by a 704-vote margin to Republican challenger Aubrey Dunn out of 499,666 votes cast, or about 0.14 percent of the votes. State law calls for an automatic recount when the margin between two statewide candidates is less than half of 1 percent of ballots cast. Dunn maintained a slim lead through post-election canvassing by county clerks and the state Canvassing Board. But Powell alleges there have been several irregularities, including the vote recount order approved by the state Canvassing Board on Nov. 25.
New Mexico: State GOP: Powell ‘manipulating’ recount in land commissioner race | The Santa Fe New Mexican: Local News
The state Republican Party on Wednesday attacked incumbent state Land Commissioner Ray Powell, accusing him of “manipulating the system” and “maneuvering of Democratic provisional ballots” in an effort to hang on to his office. The emailed fundraising appeal on behalf of GOP candidate Aubrey Dunn in the closely contested land commissioner race was sent a day after the state Supreme Court suspended an automatic recount of votes cast during the Nov. 4 general election, pending a hearing before justices scheduled for Monday. The court’s order came in response to a petition filed by Powell, a Democrat, in which he alleged that the recount procedure outlined in an order issued by the state Canvassing Board doesn’t comply with the state constitution and election laws.
Over the past decade, Republicans in the Legislature have repeatedly introduced legislation to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, only to watch the bills die in committees run by Democrats. Next year could be different with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the election last week. With a 37-33 majority, House Republicans will be able to get a photo voter ID bill through that chamber. The question is what would happen to it upon arrival in the Senate, where Democrats retain a 25-17 voting edge. Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who made her support of photo voter ID a major theme of her successful re-election campaign, believes there is a chance of Senate approval. Some Democratic senators may be rethinking their positions after the GOP grabbed control of the House for the first time in more than a half-century, Duran says.
The Secretary of State’s office is pushing back against a newspaper article in the Santa Fe New Mexican that says Sharpies have been recalled from polling offices. The article said, “All 33 county clerks were to remove Sharpie pens from voting sites Thursday at the direction of Secretary of State Dianna Duran.” The article says that Sharpies were replaced by Papermate Flair pens. The Secretary of State’s office referred to it as a “sensational report.” Scott Krahling, the supervisor of the Doña Ana County Bureau of Elections, told NM Telegram that there was no order for county clerks to remove Sharpie pens from voting sites.
The state Supreme Court on Monday ordered election workers to postpone the mailing of general-election ballots this weekend until the court can decide whether it’s legal for the county to add advisory questions to the ballot. The court order came shortly after Bernalillo County filed an emergency petition Monday asking justices to intervene and authorize the addition of two advisory questions – one centering on marijuana decriminalization, the other on raising taxes for mental-health programs. The Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 23 – next Tuesday. County election workers had faced a Saturday deadline to begin mailing absentee ballots to voters outside New Mexico, such as military personnel stationed overseas, but justices ordered them to hold off until the court takes further action. Election results for the two questions wouldn’t be binding. They simply ask voters for their opinion.