By MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Daily Post
Los Alamos County Sheriff Marco Lucero has filed suit against Attorney General Hector Balderas and his records custodian Patricia Salazar in First Judicial District Court alleging Balderas is withholding a 2016 memorandum containing an opinion or evaluation of the ongoing dispute involving the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s duties.
The suit was filed by Lucero’s attorney A. Blair Dunn who recently announced his candidacy for Balderas’s position. It alleges that Lucero met in August 2016 with Peter Auh, then an assistant attorney general, and Jack LeVick, then executive director for the New Mexico Sheriffs Association in Santa Fe.
“Auh presented what he described as a final version of a memorandum he had prepared concerning the opinion or evaluation of the attorney general’s office regarding the dispute over the legal responsibilities of the elected sheriff in Los Alamos County,” the complaint says.
It alleges Lucero and LeVick were allowed to read the letter but before the meeting concluded, it was interrupted by Assistant Attorney General John Wheeler who “snatched back the memorandum and stated the opinion was going to be sequestered and not released to the public”.
On Jan. 5, Dunn asked Salazar’s office for the memorandum under the Inspection of Public Records Act and on Jan. 10, Salazar responded saying her office has conducted a thorough search of records maintained or held by the Attorney General’s office and found no responsive records and that Balderas has not issued an opinion regarding the matter.
Lucero is asking the Court for a declaratory judging adjudicating the denial of the public records by Balderas and if necessary a writ of mandamus requiring Balderas to produce the requested records.
Lucero told the Daily Post Thursday that at the time of the 2016 meeting, he didn’t expect that the opinion would be taken from him before he could even read it.
“I didn’t understand why we wouldn’t be privy to the Attorney’s Office findings,” he said. “We were just looking for an unbiased, fair legal opinion”.
Lucero said he is frustrated that the First Judicial District Court has not yet set a hearing on his request for a writ of mandamus directing the Los Alamos County Council to fulfill its statutory responsibility “to pass the necessary budget measures to adequately fund the Office of the County Sheriff that are conducive to the welfare of the municipality” and for him to perform all acts directed by state statute. The complaint asked the Court to declare that the County’s charter, with regard to law enforcement, cannot be interpreted contrary to state statute.
That complaint alleged that in 2016, some members of the Council began a campaign to extinguish the Office of Sheriff through improper means contrary to the law, including firing all Sheriff’s Office personnel and transferring his executive secretary. It stated that in 2017, the Council “continued its vendetta” by refusing to provide a budget for the salary of the undersheriff and the executive secretary or the necessary minimum budget required to allow Lucero to fulfill his minimum statutory obligations.
In October, the County asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order requiring Lucero to cease and desist from enforcing state ordinances alleging that until Lucero came into office, the elected Sheriff of Los Alamos County complied with the limits imposed on the Office of Sheriff by the adoption of an amendment to the County Charter by not performing law enforcement duties assigned to the Los Alamos Police Department. It alleged that former sheriffs carried out only “ministerial duties” such as serving civil process and keeping the records required by the Sex Offender Notification and Registration Act (SONRA). No hearing date has yet been set in this case.
“They don’t seem to see the urgency of getting this matter settled. I am continuing to do the work with no staff and no budget,” Lucero said.
Spokesman James Hallinan of the Attorney Generals Office said Wednesday evening that Dunn has “a clear record of wasting taxpayer dollars by filing frivolous lawsuits and was just sanctioned by a federal judge last week for his reckless behavior”.
“This lawsuit is meritless, contains factual errors, and we look forwarding to defending it in court,” Hallinan said.