NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments on Friday, Jan. 14 over the state’s ethics law. Justices tried to settle a lingering question – is the law for an ethics charge written so loosely that it shouldn’t be used as a criminal statute?
This comes after a challenge in the cases of four public officials charged with ethics violations. Former Dona Ana County Treasurer David Gutierrez is accused of pursuing a relationship with an employee. Sixth Judicial District Attorney Francesca Estevez is suspected of trying to intimidate officers investigating her for using a state-owned vehicle.
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Former San Juan County Magistrate Judge Connie Lee Johnston is accused of recording people in a secure part of a building and former Tax and Revenue Secretary Demesia Padilla is accused of using her position to embezzle.
The attorney for Padilla says the law falls short, reading merely as a set of guidelines for how public officials should behave. “They scream more than ambiguity, they scream vagueness,” Attorney Paul Kennedy said. “There are no standards, there are no definitions.”
“The state is asking this court to give life to this Frankenstein criminal mash-up and in doing so, it is asking you to accept its misleading direction,” said Nicholas Sitterly, the lawyer for Estevez and Johnston.
The Attorney General’s office argues the law that states public employees shall not use their power for personal benefit is perfectly clear. “It serves the purpose of the intention of the legislature for this legislation to have public confidence in government,” Walter Hart, from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, said.
The justices did not say a ruling can be expected on the ethics charge, which carries up to a year and a half behind bars. A rejection of the law would not affect Demisia Padilla’s theft convictions.