AG claims rights to Lincoln County documents set to be auctioned off

New Mexico News

A series of documents with ties to New Mexico’s Wild West history were supposed to go up for auction this weekend. 

However, New Mexico’s top prosecutor is taking aim at the collector who’s claiming ownership, saying the artifacts belong to the state.

The Office of Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a letter to private collector Robert G. McCubbin and auction organizer Brian Lebel Thursday, demanding a stop-sale on at least 30 auction lots of historic courthouse records.

In the letter, a representative of Balderas’ office claims that the documents are “indisputably” the property of the State of New Mexico. The AG’s Office is also demanding that the items “immediate return.”

The modern-day “showdown” of sorts comes as private collector Robert G. McCubbin planned to sell the documents at Brian Lebel’s “Old West Events” auction in Mesa, Arizona this weekend. 

A longtime auction manager, Lebel has been running auctions for more than two-decades, selling authentic, historic western memorabilia.

In response to the letter Thursday, Lebel pulled the auction on the 30 lots in question.

“When there is a dispute, we just take the item out and we let the two other parties work that out between them,” said Lebel. “It’s important to us to do this no matter who’s side we believe.

One of the documents in question is a court order that set in motion events starting the Lincoln County War. 

“They’re some of the most important documents that related to Lincoln County, and the Lincoln County War,” Lebel said. 

Lebel says his team will not sell the items this weekend. However, he also questions if the state can prove ownership saying old records were often thrown out by courthouse staff. 

“Proving whether something [was] intentionally taken, or whether something was thrown in the dump, you know I’ve physically looked through boxes of materials that’s been taken directly out of dumps,” Lebel said. 

KRQE News 13 reached out to the collector, Robert G. McCubbin, but didn’t hear back. 

The AG’s Office released a statement saying in part that it is trying to protect the state’s shared cultural heritage. 

Attorney General Hector Baldera’s Office’s Full Statement:

“The Attorney General has the duty and authority to fight for the public interest.  The State of New Mexico, and New Mexicans, unquestionably have an interest in making sure that our shared cultural heritage is protected for the benefit of all, not hidden away by private parties who have no legal right to possess State property.  In addition, the Legislature has explicitly conferred on the Attorney General the authority to seek the recovery of State records from other parties.”  (See NMSA 1978, § 14-3-16).”

–David Carl, Press Secretary, Office of Attorney General Hector Balderas.

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