As retired judge Sandra Price watched the state House of Representatives debate a bill that would allow people to sue government agencies over civil rights violations, one particular moment grabbed her attention.

It was when Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, rose to ask the bill’s sponsors — House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque — to accept a substitute bill.

The amended legislation would have required any lawmakers who work as attorneys to agree not to represent clients in complaints that might fall under the proposed New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

Lane, Louis and Egolf are all attorneys.

Just days before Tuesday’s debate on the House floor, Price had filed a complaint against Egolf with the State Ethics Commission, claiming he stands to benefit if the bill is passed into law. She argued he should have disclosed that at least 20 percent of his business concerns civil rights litigation.

Watching Lane — an attorney who, Price said, knew nothing about her claim — argue the point on the chamber floor made her “almost fall out of my chair.”

“It made me feel good that I wasn’t the only one to see this. I felt it was a conflict that he [Egolf] was preparing the bill, that he had sponsored that bill, argued on the bill, voted on the bill.”

In a written statement Wednesday, Egolf, whose Santa Fe law firm handles civil rights cases, among a variety of other cases, said the retired judge’s complaint is “baseless and clearly designed to distract me from my work and to discourage me from fighting for the people of New Mexico.”

He said he would not comment on the ethics complaint because it was pending and directed inquiries to Albuquerque attorney Andrew Schultz and retired judge Linda Vanzi of the Rodey Law Firm, “who are preparing my response to the complaint.”

Speaking by phone, Schultz said that with New Mexico’s Legislature made up of unpaid volunteers, it is “essential that people of all professions be able to serve without being accused of anything they do coming back to haunt them.”

He said a businessperson who is a legislator may vote on a tax measure “that could later have an impact on their business.”

“The idea that simply because you are a lawyer disqualifies you on matters of public importance is foolish and is not the intent or the letter of New Mexico ethics laws.”

House Bill 4, which would create the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, would allow residents to file complaints in state District Courts against government agencies over violations of the New Mexico Bill of Rights. Currently, such cases are generally filed in federal courts, citing violations of the U.S. Constitution.

Should the plaintiffs win a case filed under the law, their attorneys’ fees would be covered.

In her complaint, Price said the bill, if it becomes law, will “clearly and unequivocally benefit the private practice of Speaker Egolf.”

Price, who is a Democrat, said her actions have nothing to do with party politics. She said she wants Egolf and other legislators to be “conscious about how things appear.”

“If it [the complaint] causes him to scrutinize what bills he is passing, voting on, arguing, that’s what I want,” Price said.

Schultz said one section of the law Price cites in her complaint applies to public officials and employees but excludes legislators, so it would not apply to Egolf.

Price said, “I read that statute to mean it applies to public officials, and I believe legislators are public officials.”

Schultz said he was preparing a response to Price’s complaint and planned to ask the commission to dismiss it.

Lane, a freshman lawmaker, argued Tuesday on the House floor it could be a conflict of interest for any legislator who is an attorney to support the bill and then later file claim under the act on behalf of a client.

Louis countered that Lane’s proposed substitute bill could affect almost every member of the Legislature, where members hold jobs in a variety of professions — doctor, educator, rancher — and often encounter bills that involve their line of work.

“It’s not just lawyers in the Legislature; it’s every single profession,” Louis said.

Ultimately, House members voted 44-24 to table Lane’s motion, mostly along party lines, with Democrats opposing it. Then the House voted 39-29 — with some Democrats joining Republicans in opposing the legislation — to approve HB 4.

The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.

Speaking by phone Wednesday night, Lane said he knew nothing of Price’s complaint until she called him after Tuesday’s debate to tell him she had filed it.

This is not the first time conflict-of-interest concerns have come up in the state’s “citizen Legislature,” in which members are not paid and most have full-time jobs. Some lawmakers are married to lobbyists or vote and sponsor legislation that might support an industry in which they have a personal business interest.

In an interview with The New Mexican about possible conflicts of interest during the 2020 legislative session, Egolf asked, “Should there be no lawyers in the Legislature?”

The State Ethics Commission, launched in January 2020, is tasked with overseeing the state’s laws on campaign finance, lobbying, financial disclosures and other aspects of public officials’ conduct.

Price said the commission acknowledged her complaint Feb. 11.

Efforts to reach a representative of the commission late Wednesday were unsuccessful.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(23) comments

Grace Trujillo

Mr. Egolf, you were representing the people of Santa Fe but what happened? Please don't lose your ethics and compassion for the citizens of New Mexico. And do what is write for us in the legislature. We put our faith in you and would appreciate some honest and admirable representation.

Thank you

Alan Kemp

“Should there be no lawyers in the Legislature?” Well, like any other profession, I'd be fine with them being represented as long as it's not my unethical scum-suckers.

Grace Trujillo

Come on Mr. Egolf. You were so professional and for the people when you first started with the legislature. Don't go wrong now. We need you.

Mitch Kraft

He is a bully. I hate when bullies get called out, then cry like they’re a victim. NM deserves better than this self serving loser.

Mike Johnson

Well said![thumbup][thumbup]

Francisco Carbajal

Interesting responses and citizen's statements relating to what occurred after HB4 was passed by the House Chambers. Apparently, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe doesn't think he is legally obligated to adhered to ethical conduct and standards of behavior relating to disclosure statements to the public about his personal business, period! It is not surprising at all. That being said, what makes you think the State Ethics Commission will address this serious ethical complaint being filed against him? Yes, I believe in "due process;" however, if you look on the recent State Ethics Commissions rulings being made on behalf of the best interests of New Mexico, it is laughable. In the last NMSEC meeting which was held on February 5, 2020, Items #11 and #12, a motion died for lack of a quorum under Section 10-16G-3C(H) of the State Ethic's Commission. For the most part of it, I will not be surprise if the State Ethic's Commission at their next scheduled meeting on April 2, 2021, will review the Egolf compliant and then, ask the Commission for a motion to dismiss Case No. 2021-000 for lack of jurisdiction. Definitely, Item's #11 and 12: Consideration of Endorsement of Lobbyist Disclosure SB34 and SB314 would of made a big impression on Egolf's ego.

Mike Johnson

This is one very brave and courageous lady. I wish her well and hope the Santa Fe Ring does not seek retribution in some form.

Francisco Carbajal

Good point, Mr. Mike Johnson. The Santa Fe Ring is alive and well. Retribution practices in both Democrat and Republican parties is not new for New Mexico politics.

Richard Reinders

Remember what happened to Carl Trujillo when he wanted more transparency.

Chris Mechels

How much mischief is made under "Fighting for New Mexico"? Both Egolf and Grisham love to use that claim. Who are they "fighting"?? Its simply Bogus, to cover their actions. Bill Richardson loved the phrase also... and very corrupt.

Egolf lately had taken a very lovely $18 million loan subsidized by being a "municipal" loan. We pay for his advantage. He also scooped up $350,000 in CARES ACT money, not because he needed it, but because it was too good to resist.

WE paid for that also, because there is NO free money, and printing free money leads to inflation, always has.

The complaint against Egolf is well taken. By his actions, he using his position for very substantial personal benefits, at our expense.

As to the question of having attorneys serve in our "unpaid" Legislature, that should also be taken up, at some future time. I know few, if any, attorneys, who work "pro bono". They love to be paid, and create problems so they can be paid. I for one, would not allow attorneys to serve in the Legislature. Too keen to create problems, and send me the bill. Egolf one of the worst.

William Craig

Remember “about $240,000” went to Egolf’s law firm in April 2020 under the Paycheck Protection Program precipitated by the panpanic, as reported here:

https://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/coronavirus/paycheck-protection-program-funds-went-to-many-santa-fe-businesses/article_9faa1b84-c528-11ea-b693-ab61d4ee1080.html

William Craig

Egolf’s tax lien once had an AP piece in the paper’s “news in brief” section, but it seems to have vanished from the paper’s archive — it can still be found here:

https://apnews.com/article/elections-santa-fe-steve-pearce-new-mexico-virus-outbreak-71186a456ea3538edaffe2740eb65181

William Craig

The story ends thusly:

“Egolf accused Pearce of trying to distract from ‘deceit, dishonesty, and dereliction of duty’ by President Donald Trump and the president’s handling of the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

Enough said.

Kim Griego-Kiel

As the only citizen legislature in the country, we first need to start paying them. This takes the risks of bribery off the table (not always but reduces it) allows those who are not just the wealthy to run for office, and levels the playing field.

Richard Reinders

Don't fool yourself

Joe Ray Anaya

Using Lane's logic, should he remove himself from the bills that he is co-sponsoring that directly affect his small business as a private practice attorney? HB 134, if passed, would directly benefit his business, isn't that a conflict of interest that the NM Bar's Ethics board should look into as well?

Stefanie Beninato

Yesterday I listened to a panel who would vote on the position of NM Court of Appeals judge--there were panelists whose spouses had written letters in support of certain candidates or who had worked closely with one or more candidates etc but don't worry they could be fair and impartial--whatever happened to the "appearance of conflict of interest" and no doubt the insider is going to get the position--it almost seemed like she was the heir apparent... I would have preferred someone who was not already embedded in the system because it was clear from her interview that the judges do not write their own opinions---yes, I know that is what law clerks/staff attorney do. Taking these cases to state court may seem easier but then you would get judges like Bryan Biedscheid who seemingly engages in exparte contact (phone calls etc), but doesn't know that communication to him copied to the other party is not exparte; he makes up evidence and law; ignores perjury; doesn't apply first amendment law when required. He issues permanent injunctions without a properly noticed hearing without any evidence of direct an irreparable harm and then sets a preliminary injunction hearing months later only to cancel it because of his mistaken insistence on exparte. He is a complete embarrassment to the state judiciary and that is why I asked the panel to double down on questions concerning integrity, lack of bias and knowledge of the law. BTW Biedscheid was Peter Wirth's law partner.

Tim Herrera

Just look at Egolf's campaign contributions, largest amount from trial attorney's like himself. What better platform to create laws one will benefit the most. He has sued state and county government for years now, it's easy money, and then with his title and bullying style they mostly just settle out of court. They don't want to make him mad, he may cut the capital outlay money to them. The taxpayers pay in the end. This is why the all 33 counties in NM and all cities are against this bill, they realize that the big winner will be attorneys. As to his answer if it's a conflict, he says "Should there be no lawyers in the Legislature?". Its a choice to run for office, it is also a choice to champion legislation that will bring you great financial wealth.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup][thumbup]

Jim Clark

Let’s don’t stop here, let’s have a paid Legislature who cannot hold other jobs, end paid lobbyists and get all money out of politics. No? That is what I thought.

Richard Reinders

The real thing to look at is how many law suits have these legislators represented against City, County or State agencies in the past. And to answer Egolf " Egolf asked, “Should there be no lawyers in the Legislature?” I say It would be a good start.

bob chilton

Any state representative who’s day job is a defense attorney that assists in criminal defense legislation should recuse themselves from any litigation that they implemented. Why wouldn’t this be an ethnics issue? I am a proponent of equal social justice, but having defense attorneys establish state law creates an imbalance of justice to true victims of criminal and civil litigation. We are allowing those whose jobs it is to interpret law to actually scribe and define it.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup]

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