The Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative board on Friday disputed a lawyer’s claim that the board tried to bribe ousted board member Bruce Duran of El Rancho by offering him $50,000 to drop a lawsuit against the board and keep the pay-off secret.
Duran, part of a minority faction on the 11-member board that oversees the power supply for rural areas of Northern New Mexico, sued when other board members refused to certify his recent reelection.
In a news release, the board said the $50,000 offer, which also would have required Duran to never run for the board again, was a “good faith effort to settle the lawsuit … in an effort to minimize costs, bring the litigation to resolution, and enable [the co-op] to move forward.”
Duran, through his lawyer Blair Dunn, had declined the offer, calling it a bribe that would be unethical for Duran to accept.
Meanwhile, a co-op member and activist who supported Duran and other “reform” candidates in June board elections, filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Board of the state Supreme Court on Friday against Chuck Garcia, an Albuquerque lawyer who made the offer on behalf of the co-op.
The complaint, which claims Garcia was “acting much more like a personal attorney for particular members of the [board],” was filed by Heather Nordquist, a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She also said in the complaint “I believe that Mr. Garcia has willfully and knowingly lied to the tribunal, and should, as a result, be disbarred from practicing law in the state of New Mexico.”
Garcia could not be reached for comment Friday. His assistant said his office had not yet received the complaint.
Last week, state District Judge Bryan Biedscheid ordered the co-op board to certify Duran’s election — and remove his appointed replacement, former Pojoaque Pueblo Gov. George Rivera — until a trial is held on the merits of the case.
Dunn said this week that evidence presented at a Sept. 30 motions hearing, intended to refute a claim that Duran did not live in the district from which he was elected, will be incorporated into a “bench” trial, which has yet to be scheduled.
Board Chairman Leo Marquez confirmed this week that the board has not yet certified Duran’s election, in which he ran without opposition.
“The board will continue to defend its determinations made regarding the board of trustee elections held in June 2019, and is currently pursuing its defense in the ongoing legal proceedings,” the Friday news release said.
“The board’s counsel acted in the long term interest of the entire membership and [the co-op’s] 31,000 customers to bring to resolution the pending litigation, rather than continue in protracted and expensive litigation,” the release said.
The statement said in making the offer, board members “also considered the potential exposure from litigation [the co-op] faces from potential contractors and employees if Mr. Duran continues on the board.”
That’s a reference to allegations of sexual harassment made against Duran earlier this year by an employee of a Jemez Mountains contractor.
Nordquist, in her complaint against Garcia, also talked about that allegation, which arose just before the board elections.
“In June of 2019, the [co-op board] received a complaint from an attorney alleging that my trustee, Bruce Duran, was engaged in procuring a contract for a third party in exchange for sexual favors. Rather than properly represent his client, Mr. Duran, Mr. Garcia engaged in a personal investigation of Mr. Duran in order to attempt to facilitate his removal from the [board], at the direction of the group of trustees listed above.”
No formal sexual harassment complaint has been lodged against Duran.
Nordquist continued, “When the claims in the letter regarding a sexual quid pro quo were not successfully substantiated, Mr. Garcia concocted a very novel argument that Mr. Duran was not eligible to run for this position.”
The board, under Garcia’s advice, determined Duran is not a valid member of the co-op and did not live in his district because he was legally separated from his wife, who paid most of the recent electric bills for the couple’s house. Duran and his wife still reside in the home and said they have reconciled.
“Mr. Duran’s residence is located at 59 County Road 84B,” Nordquist said. “Mine is at 40 County Road 84B. Since we are close neighbors and I often see Mr. Duran and am fully aware of where he resides, I leaned over to Mr. Garcia during the recess and offered to immediately sign an affidavit as to the true and current residence of Mr. Duran. Mr. Garcia refused to acknowledge me, and then the board president at the time, Mr. Nick Naranjo, yelled at me to shut up and instructed police officers to ‘shut me up’ if I did not do so voluntarily. Mr. Naranjo then proclaimed that I was not a member and not authorized to speak. That assertion is and was incorrect.
“Mr. Garcia did nothing to stop Mr. Naranjo’s verbal abuse toward me, and he ignored my first-hand knowledge of Mr. Duran’s residence location,” Nordquist said. “He then proceeded to advise the [board] to vote that Mr. Duran was not a qualified candidate, which they did, despite numerous protestations and offers of evidence from Mr. Duran, his attorney and myself.”
She wrote that at subsequent court hearings, Garcia “alleged numerous times that Mr. Duran did not attempt to dispute the claims Mr. Garcia made regarding his marital status and his place of residence. Any and all of these claims are examples of Mr. Garcia willfully and knowingly lying to the court, as well as being highly unethical toward myself and Mr. Duran by lying to the judge.”
Jemez Mountains, one of the state’s largest rural electric co-ops, serves parts of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, San Juan, McKinley and Sandoval counties.