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Judge Grants Los Alamos County Permanent Injunction Restraining Sheriff From Performing Law Enforcement Duties

on July 13, 2018 - 5:14pm

First Judicial District Judge Francis Mathew has issued his ruling in two lawsuits between Los Alamos County Sheriff Marco Lucero and Los Alamos County Council concerning the duties of the Office of the Sheriff. Photo by Maire O'Neill/ladailypost.com

 
By MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Daily Post

The long-awaited ruling by First Judicial District Judge Francis Mathew on the duties of the Los Alamos County Sheriff has been issued and it looks like the Sheriff’s duties will remain the same as they have been since 1976.

Under the terms of the judgment, Judge Mathew granted the County a permanent injunction restraining Sheriff Marco Lucero from performing law enforcement duties, but it allows Sheriff Lucero to retain his “statutory and customary duties”. The judgment estops the County from eliminating the Office of the Sheriff by failing to fund or adequately staff the office sufficiently to allow the Office of the Sheriff to perform its statutory and customary duties other than law enforcement concerning peacekeeping.

Judge Mathew had indicated that he would issue his decision shortly after a May 10 hearing on what started out as two separate cases. The first was filed by Sheriff Lucero in August 2017 requesting a writ of mandamus and declaratory judgment against the County Council asking the Court to declare that the County’s interpretation of its Charter violates the principles of the supremacy of the state statutes that govern the actions of the County Council and that the actions of the County Council are in violation of the law such that they should be declared void.

Lucero filed an amended complaint March 7 requesting the same relief and March 15 the County answered raising certain issues including res judicata, which is when there is a final judgment in a case, so it is no longer subject to appeal.

The County filed its verified petition Oct. 15 requesting that Sheriff Lucero be “enjoined and restrained from preserving the peace and enforcing the laws of the state and ordinances of the County” and Oct. 28, Judge Mathew ordered the two cases consolidated.

Prefacing his judgment in the case, Judge Mathew said in 1976, Larry Vaughn, the Sheriff of Los Alamos County filed his lawsuit against the County asking the District Court to enter declaratory judgment determining whether the Charter section is a constitutional restriction of the powers and authority of the Sheriff. In November 1976, Judge Edwin Felter issued his decision finding that the Los Alamos Governing Board could not deprive the Sheriff of all statutory duties or of so many duties as to leave the Office of the Sheriff in name only as an empty shell and that many of the functions performed by the Sheriff are of a state nature and no local government may treat the state functions in a manner as to leave a void or to empty the Office of the Sheriff.

Judge Mathew said that in that case the County represented that its governing board only assigned the police department exclusively duties of law enforcement within the County to eliminate duplication and competition between the police department and the Office of the Sheriff with all other statutory and customary duties of the Sheriff remaining with the Sheriff. He said Judge Felter found that if the representations were correct there were no violations of the New Mexico Constitution and that Judge  Felter found that the County assigned to its police department all law enforcement duties involving keeping the peace with all other statutory and customary duties of the Sheriff remaining with the Sheriff and that such action was in conformance with the New Mexico Constitution.

Judge Felter entered a declaratory judgment declaring the amendment of the Charter valid. Sheriff Vaughn appealed the judgment, but the appeal was dismissed prior to any decision.

“Sheriff Lucero is a party in privity with Sheriff Larry Vaughn as a successor to the Sheriff of Los Alamos County acting in the same capacity,” Judge Mathew said.   

He said the subject matter in the two consolidated cases is the same and that the same cause of action appears in the two cases. He said there was no evidence that the Charter provision was further amended after it was renumbered as Paragraph 304 or that the County took any action to assign further or other duties to the police department.

Judge Mathew found Sheriff Lucero’s claims related to the Constitutional invalidity of 304.4 are barred by res judicata and should be dismissed.

“Los Alamos County is entitled to a permanent injunction restraining Sheriff Lucero from engaging in law enforcement duties, but it is not entitled injunctive relief concerning Sheriff Lucero’s statutory and customary duties relating to the Office of the Sheriff, ” the judgment states. “Los County is estopped from eliminating the Office of the Sheriff by failing to fund or adequately staff the office sufficiently to allow the office of the sheriff to perform the statutory and customary duties of the office other than law enforcement duties concerning peacekeeping.”

In addition, Judge Mathew said the verified petition for temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction should be granted in part and denied in part.

“The relief requested by Sheriff in the amended complaint is denied. The claims of relief requested by the County’s restraining order, preliminary injufnction and permanent injunction restraining the Sheriff from engaging in law enforcement is granted and Sheriff Lucero is permanently restrained from exercising law enforcement duties involving keeping the peace, ” he said, adding that the County is not allowed to perform the other duties of the Sheriff besides law enforcement.

“We are disappointed in the ruling,” Sheriff Lucero told the Los Alamos Daily Post this afternoon. “The people elect sheriffs to serve and protect. The executive law enforcement officer is vital for our checks and balances.”

Lucero’s attorney, Blair Dunn, told the Los Alamos Daily Post in a phone call that he intends to appeal the decision on behalf of his client and that he believes the Vaughn decision was superseded by subsequent cases.

Los Alamos County Attorney Alvin Leapheart told the Los Alamos Daily Post by phone this afternoon that he appreciates the Court’s efforts and thanked the Court for its ruling. Council Chair David Izraelevitz said he is pleased by Judge Mathew's decision affirming the Council's position that the Los Alamos County Sheriff should not engage in law enforcement duties.

"I hope that the current Sheriff and anyone subsequently holding the position will abide by this decision so we don't have additional public funds expended on this matter," he said. 


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