Secrecy practice in NM federal court goes deeper than documents, defense lawyers say

A new federal court filing indicates the practice of secrecy at New Mexico federal courts expands beyond the improper sealing of documents to improperly closing off court proceedings from the public. Assistant Federal Public Defenders John Robbenhaar and Aric Elsenheimer filed a document last week alleging that an Aug. 3 court hearing was sealed — meaning no one besides parties to the case could enter during the proceeding — without their knowledge. A transcript of the hearing also was sealed without their input, the filing says. On Sept.

A win by two or more challengers would give women first-ever majority on New Mexico Court of Appeals

The notion struck Megan Duffy at an event she attended with several other women—and it struck her hard. It was Aug. 18. The gathering marked the anniversary of a seismic change to the US Constitution: Passage of the 19th Amendment, more commonly known as women’s suffrage. “Women have only been able to vote in this country for 98 years,” Duffy says in a recent interview with New Mexico In Depth and SFR.

Land commissioner candidates offer differing visions for renewable power

The state land commissioner manages 9 million acres of surface land, and 13 million acres of mineral estate, with a mandate to maximize revenue from those acres through leases to pay for public schools and universities. Fossil fuels accounts for 92.7 percent of the revenue generated the office. Commissioner candidates talk about where renewable energy fits into the picture.

Improperly Sealed: Lawyers, not judges, selecting which NM fed court documents stay secret

Prosecutors and defense lawyers have shielded records from public view without a judge’s order in New Mexico’s federal courts, an apparent violation of the U.S. District Court of New Mexico’s own rules, New Mexico In Depth has learned. Judges, not lawyers, are supposed to decide which documents are made available to the public and which should remain secret through an established protocol based in part on decades of case law: Attorneys must submit a written request asking a judge to seal records and a judge must consent before records are sealed. Despite this well-known standard, in numerous instances spread among three criminal cases, the New Mexico offices of the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Public Defender have decided unilaterally to make documents secret without a judge’s order, according to a review of federal court records by NMID. It is not clear how many of the thousands of federal court records each year have been sealed this way, but one federal public defender says the practice has gone on for years. “There has been a long-standing practice in the District of New Mexico for parties to elect to file a document under seal, without prior approval of the district court,” attorney John Robbenhaar wrote in an emailed response to questions from NMID.

Defense lawyer blasts feds for secret response to racial profiling claims

The secret filing means the public cannot view — or scrutinize — the U.S. Attorney’s defense of Yusef Casanova’s arrest, which federal public defender Brian Pori has challenged. Last month Pori argued in a motion that he had enough evidence to prove ATF agents and informants targeted Casanova because he’s black and asked Senior U.S. District Judge James Parker to drop methamphetamine trafficking and illegal firearm possession charges.

In a filing Wednesday afternoon prosecutors noted their reason for responding to Pori’s original motion under seal, writing it “identifies by name a number of uncharged subjects of the (operation) and references the content of other sealed filings.”

But Pori told NMID the government did not need to name people who had been identified for investigation but not arrested. Prosecutors could’ve blacked the names out of the document, but left its defense of Casanova’s arrest for the public to see, he noted.

Black man says he can prove feds racially profiled him, wants charges dropped

Yusef Casanova believes he has enough evidence to prove federal law enforcement targeted him because he’s black. Casanova, whose case NMID highlighted in a May 2017 investigation, is asking a federal judge to drop federal drug and gun charges from a controversial monthslong 2016 sting operation in Albuquerque and give him his freedom back. The motion, filed last month in federal court, contends there is evidence that shows agents and informants of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) racially profiled Casanova and other African Americans in the operation. Casanova sold an ounce of meth and a gun to an undercover ATF agent in June 2016; he was arrested weeks later and has been locked up pending trial ever since. His white supplier — who was present when Casanova brokered the drug sale — was never arrested.

ABQ Democracy Dollars proposal would increase mayoral campaign cash

A decade ago, it seemed Albuquerque’s new public financing program had proven itself. All three mayoral candidates in 2009 used public money to run their campaigns, keeping expenditures under $400,000 each, well below the almost $1.2 million the incumbent mayor had spent in 2005 to get re-elected. Public financing freed candidates to talk to voters rather than spend all their time fundraising, supporters said, while making it possible for them to compete against candidates raising money from big donors. They also hoped reducing the amount of money spent might inspire more confidence in the political process. Then a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court decision in an Arizona case invalidated a provision in Albuquerque’s law that provided additional funds when expenditures by private competitors exceeded the initial city disbursements to publicly funded candidates.

Creative thinking brings child care center to Jal

A visitor heading down NM-128 to Jal would be forgiven for believing there were more people driving pickups and equipment trucks on the congested state highway than living in the small oil patch town of just over 2,100 people. Jal is an old ranching community — JAL was a brand used for the John A. Lynch herd, brought to the area by settlers in the 1800s — but today, oil is its economic engine. And that engine is humming. New Mexico’s most recent oil and gas boom has filled Heaven in a Cup, a retro burgers-and-shake shack off Main Street, with hungry oil field workers. Encampments of RVs and campers have sprung up around town and the economic resurgence has helped refuel the tiny town that sits just across the border from Texas.

Historic court victory will influence election, 2019 legislative session

A jovial crowd shaded by large trees and within sight of an Albuquerque public school gathered Monday to celebrate a court ruling that many were hailing as vindication of what they had been saying for years. On Friday, State District Judge Sarah Singleton ruled New Mexico guilty of shirking its constitutional duty  to adequately educate at-risk students. The ruling, which represented a sound defeat for Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and her Public Education Department, is not the last word. The agency said late Monday it will appeal. “Unfortunately, the judge missed the boat with this ruling,” Public Education Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski said, adding that the state has invested in programs that “have been proven to improve student success.” 

But the possibility of an appeal earlier in the day wasn’t about to puncture Monday’s celebratory mood.