Thursday, September 01, 2005


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Sept. 1, 2005

Santa Fe Municipal Judge Fran Gallegos is one of two elected officials in New Mexico who is a member of the Green Party (the other being Gary Clauss, a member of the Silver City Town Council.)

But so far, the Greens have been mysteriously silent about Gallegos’ recent suspension by the state Supreme Court over what the state Judicial Standard Commissions says is “a myriad of ethical violations” on the judge’s part.

Until now.

I called one of the party’s two recently elected co-chairmen, John Otter of Santa Fe on Tuesday and asked whether the Greens had taken a stand on the Gallegos situation — and if not, why not?

Otter confirmed that the party hadn’t made any public statements about the case. He said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the case — which includes allegations of Gallegos altering drunken-driving case records to make her look tougher on DWI — but that he personally has the “highest respect” for the judge.

He also said party leaders would be meeting that night and that the topic was likely to come up.

On Wednesday, Otter said the basic consensus of the Greens about Gallegos was that “We have every confidence in her and her efforts to benefit the community.”

If Gallegos did make a “misstep,” Otter said, “we’re sure it wasn’t to benefit herself.”

“We need to know more about the current charges,” Otter said. “Nobody’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Her work has been very beneficial to Santa Fe.”

Not the most spirited, hard-hitting defense. But that’s what he had.

Otter said Gallegos hadn’t spoken with him or other Green leaders since the high court suspended her with pay for 90 days last month.

Carol Miller, a past state co-chairman of the Greens and a former Green candidate for Congress, also had praise for Gallegos, though she too said she wasn’t up on the specific case against the judge.

“My personal position is that she’s innocent until proven guilty,” Miller said Tuesday. “I have high regards for Fran Gallegos.”

Santa Fe elections officially are “non-partisan” — which means candidates don’t run as Democrats, Republicans or Greens. However, since she was first won her office in 1996, the Greens have touted Gallegos’ election victories as their own.

(For a couple of years, Santa Fe city government had three elected Green officials. But in 2002, City Councilor Cris Moore didn’t seek re-election. Later that year, Councilor Miguel Chavez switched from the Green Party to become a Democrat.)

Gallegos ran as a Green in her first political race. That was in 1994, when she gave Democrat Richard “Buzzy” Padilla a scare in a magistrate judge race.

Gallegos in July spoke to a state “Green Gathering." According to an item on the state party’s Web site, Gallegos, “spoke of her struggles with both major parties and her gratitude to Greens who gave her a home and helped her gain and retain office, and implement her successful and innovative programs.”

Could one of those “struggles” refer to her problems with the state Judicial Standards Commission, which would explode in public a month later?

Grist for the conspiracy buffs: This is probably just all coincidence. There’s probably nothing to it. I’m probably being terribly irresponsible for even suggesting there’s some dots here that have any possibility of being connected.

But what the heck ...

In early August, following a memorial service for a Santa Fe woman killed by a drunk driver, Gov. Bill Richardson said he was disturbed by The New Mexican’s investigation that revealed Gallegos had altered some DWI case records.

“I find the reports about the DWI records very troubling,” Richardson said. “I plan to seek advice from my legal counsel about what steps might be taken with (the Judicial Standards Commission).”

Soon thereafter the commission recommended Gallegos be suspended.

The JSC’s general counsel is Jim Noel, who is the husband of Richardson’s political director, Amanda Cooper.

The plot thickens.

This week Santa Fe Mayor Larry Delgado chose a substitute judge to take over during the 90-day suspension period. The substitute judge, Sonya Carasco-Trujillo, is a top aide to Richardson’s loyal Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.

And if you really want to carry it to an extreme, Gallegos, before becoming a judge, also worked in the lieutenant governor’s office — though she worked for Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley, a Republican.

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