State loses appeal of Duran-era case on illegal voting

Dianna Duran. Luis Sánchez Saturno/New Mexican file photo

The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office lost another court battle Wednesday, and as a result, state taxpayers face a bill of more than $90,000.

The case stems from former Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s since-discredited claims in 2011 that 117 foreign nationals had illegally registered to vote in New Mexico and that 37 of those had actually cast ballots.

In a long-running lawsuit over legal fees in a public records case filed against Duran in 2011 by the American Civil Liberties Union, the state Court of Appeals upheld a 2014 District Court decision that the ACLU is entitled to more than $87,000 in legal fees from the Secretary of State’s Office. That figure does not include subsequent legal fees from the appeals process.

Duran’s office in 2012 released more than 100 pages of documents — many of which were heavily redacted.

But Duran claimed that releasing some of the records sought by the ACLU would violate state and federal privacy laws against making Motor Vehicle Division records public. The ACLU argued that it was not seeking motor-vehicle records but voter records, which are considered public information.

Duran’s office eventually admitted during the course of the lawsuit that the list of 37 illegal voters sought by the ACLU did not exist.

Wednesday’s decision was written by appellate Judge James Wechsler with Judges Jonathan Sutin and Timothy Garcia concurring.

Scott Fuqua, a former assistant attorney general contracted by the Attorney General’s Office to defend Duran, said Wednesday it is possible he will appeal the case. “I won’t know until I talk to the in-house attorney at the Secretary of State’s Office,” he said.

Duran resigned in October before pleading guilty to fraud and other crimes. Prosecutors said she illegally used campaign contributions to cover gambling debts and falsified campaign finance reports to cover her tracks. Duran’s crimes included embezzlement of campaign donations, money laundering and falsifying a campaign finance report.

Contact Steve Terrell at 470-9823 or sterrell@sfnewmexican.com.