Life is about to get worse for the backroom deal-makers trying to control the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative.
I have obtained a copy of the letter in which an attorney for the board majority offered dissident member Bruce Duran $50,000 in exchange for his departure, his silence and his promise never again to serve as a leader of the organization.
Duran won reelection to the electric cooperative’s board of directors in June. But a majority of board members declared his victory invalid on technical grounds.
In a power play that would make a dictator smile, they refused to certify the election results and appointed a replacement for Duran.
He sued and won the first round. A state District Court judge upheld Duran’s reelection, at least until the underlying claims can be sorted out during a trial.
Instead of looking for a way to bolster their weak case that Duran was ineligible to serve, the board majority stooped to the oldest tactic in politics: It tried to buy him off.
Attorney K. Stephen Royce on Oct. 4 wrote an email to Duran’s lawyer, pitching the $50,000 payoff. His firm, Cuddy & McCarthy, represents the electric cooperative.
Royce wrote the money would be payable to Duran within 10 days of dismissal of his lawsuit. He gave Duran until 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8, to accept the offer or it would be withdrawn. In fact, Oct. 8 was Tuesday.
No matter the day, Duran wasn’t interested in surrendering his seat for money.
Royce listed these conditions for Duran to collect the $50,000:
“1. The settlement be and remain confidential as to terms and consideration paid thereunder;
“2. Mr. Duran agrees not to become a candidate or take up any position as a member of the JMEC Board of Trustees on behalf of a District or At Large for the remainder of his lifetime, or serve in any capacity regarding the Board of Trustees;
“3. Mr. Duran causes his action in the pending litigation above referenced to be dismissed upon acceptance of the Offer.”
Royce closed his letter by urging Duran’s lawyer, A. Blair Dunn, to act while the proposal was on the table.
“Consistent with your professional obligations to inform your client of this Offer, and in view of the short duration of the Offer, please convey this Offer to Mr. Duran promptly,” Royce wrote.
Dunn called the proposal a bribe, then asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to investigate it.
The electric cooperative is a publicly regulated utility that might be considered a quasi-government entity, Dunn said. If his theory is correct, a payoff to dispose of a board member might violate the New Mexico Governmental Conduct Act.
Royce, based in Albuquerque, was away from his office Thursday and did not respond to an interview request.
The board majority that wants Duran out is ducking for cover. These members have retreated behind the tired claim that they can’t discuss a lawsuit.
They would have been more convincing had they not plotted a five-figure expenditure that would be hidden forever from ratepayers.
“This reinforces for the public that we’re dealing with corruption,” Duran said in an interview.
And Dunn stands by his characterization of the proposed $50,000 payout as something outrageous.
“If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a bribe,” he said.
Royce captioned his letter offering the payout as a Rule 11-408 Communication. Lawyers call this a means of buying peace.
But there’s no getting around the fact that this confrontation is different from many civil lawsuits. Duran is fighting for his place on the board.
A majority of the other members hoped to use a secret deal to negate Duran’s reelection and end his service on a panel that needs scrutiny and deserves skepticism.
The members who tried to broker the payoff are going to lose in the court of public opinion before Duran’s suit is decided in a court of law.
After all, if the board majority had proof Duran didn’t qualify for service on the electric cooperative, all it had to do was show its evidence in a courtroom.
It preferred to operate in the backroom, a spot where Duran and ratepayers could not see them plotting to overturn the will of the voters.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.