As state lawmakers continue to take steps toward possibly impeaching Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, legislators and their staffs have only a few recent legal cases as well as vague constitutional language to draw from.
Duran, who faces criminal charges on 64 counts of fraud, money laundering and other crimes related to her campaign finances, would be the first statewide elected official impeached by the Legislature if the process goes through. Recent impeachment proceedings against then state treasurer Robert Vigil in 2005 and Public Regulation Commission member Jerome Block Jr. in 2011 were cut short when the implicated officials resigned.
“Really there is nothing in statute or in the constitution or in rule that tells you how to conduct an impeachment proceeding,” said Raúl Burciaga, director of the Legislative Council Service, whose nonpartisan staff members are poised to assist a special subcommittee announced by House Speaker Don Tripp, R-Socorro. The panel will be charged with gathering evidence that could lead to Duran’s impeachment.
Burciaga said that besides the two recent cases, researchers could only identify one other impeachment proceeding, which involved a judge in 1925. But there is no evidence the Legislature impeached the judge.
The state constitution states that impeachment power resides in the House of Representatives, which must cast a majority vote on articles of impeachment. If that happens, the state Senate conducts a trial. A two-thirds majority of sitting senators is required to remove the official from office.
All state officers and District Court judges are liable to impeachment for “crimes, misdemeanors and malfeasance in office,” states the New Mexico Constitution.
Duran has not spoken publicly or returned to work since the charges were filed Aug 28. Her attorney, Erlinda Johnson, says Duran plans to plead not guilty. She is scheduled for arraignment Sept. 15 on the criminal charges filed by state Attorney General Hector Balderas.
House Minority Leader Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Tuesday he has selected five Democratic representatives to serve on the 10-member subcommittee that will gather evidence on Duran: Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque; Rep. Tomás Salazar, D-Las Vegas; Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces; Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque; and Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque.
Egolf said he would submit those names to Tripp, who has the final say in selecting the subcommittee, whose membership will be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans.
“By tradition, the minority leader will submit names to the speaker for the … appointments in this type of situation,” Egolf said.
Tripp did not return phone calls Wednesday to confirm whether he would accept Egolf’s list or whether he has selected the Republican members of the subcommittee.
The names will be submitted to the 16-member Legislative Council on Sept. 15. The council, composed of nine Democrats and seven Republicans, has listed the authorization of expenditures for the special House subcommittee on its agenda for the meeting. The Legislative Council will have to vote whether to fund the subcommittee, which is expected to hire a lawyer to help investigate the case.
The 10-member subcommittee would then draft articles of impeachment to send to the full House of Representatives. Lawmakers would have to convene in a special session if they want to vote on impeachment articles outside of their regularly scheduled session that begin in mid-January.
Rep. Kenny Martinez, D-Grants, who served on the 2005 impeachment subcommittee, had this advice for subcommittee members: Don’t prejudge anything.
“And you have to balance due process rights with regard to holding office against the people’s interest in having confidence in their government,” he said. “And that’s a difficult balance.”
Justin Horwath can be reached at 986-3017 or email@example.com.