ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Ethics charges will be reinstated against three public officials in separate cases following a ruling on the state’s anti-corruption law. The New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld part of the Governmental Conduct Act that states someone using their position of power for personal gain could get slapped with an ethics charge.
“A legislator or public official can only use their office to advance the public interest and not to advance private interests,” University of New Mexico Political Science Principal Lecturer Peter Kierst stated. “One of the sections that some of these defendants have been charged with was constitutionally clear enough so a charge could be brought.”
In a written opinion, Judge Julie Vargas and two pro tem judges state that with the ruling, a least one ethics charge was reinstated against each of three public officials in separate cases.
They include former Doña Ana County Treasurer David Gutierrez, who’s accused of pursuing a relationship with an employee; 6th Judicial District Attorney Francesca Estevez, who’s suspected of trying to intimidate officers investigating her for using a state-owned vehicle; and former San Juan County Magistrate Judge Connie Johnston, who’s accused of recording private conversations in a courthouse.
Meanwhile, two other clauses of the law were deemed unconstitutionally vague to charge someone with a crime. “What the court said is this statute is just so vague that a reasonable person couldn’t tell what they could do and they couldn’t do,” Kierst explained.
As a result, charges will remain dropped against former Taxation and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla. She’s suspected of using her role to get tax records for herself and former clients. Padilla still faces allegations of engaging in an official act for personal financial gain, and embezzlement-related charges.
In response to the ruling, Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote in a statement: “I am grateful that the Court upheld that it is illegal for public officials to misuse a public office for personal gain. However, the Court also made it clear that the legislature must clarify and strengthen public corruption laws to protect the public trust.”