Fri, 18 December 2015
Today is December 18th, the date when Former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran has promised to turn herself in at a county jail to serve 30 days as partial punishment for siphoning money from her election account to fuel a gambling addiction. She has been ordered to report Friday morning to the Santa Fe County Adult Correctional Facility. Duran, once among the state's top elected officials, is expected sleep in a 6-by-8-foot cell and wear khaki scrubs. The 60-year-old from Tularosa resigned from office in October, and she pleaded guilty to felony counts of embezzlement and money laundering. The transgressions have led to calls for a major overhaul of state campaign finance and ethics laws. Under a plea agreement, Duran had the opportunity to withdraw her pleas, but she did not do so.
New Mexico state auditors have tracked down 5,406 evidence kits from rapes and sexual assaults that never were tested for DNA to help identify criminals. The tally was announced Friday by state Auditor Tim Keller. His oversight agency has conducted an exhaustive search for the untested sexual assault kits at law enforcement agencies across the state after earlier inquiries went partially unanswered. Auditors plan to review internal controls that led to the backlog and identify ways to speed up the testing and analysis of evidence.
A recently concluded study shows that New Mexico’s program providing 25 supplementary days of school to tens of thousands of students in Kindergarten through third grade, might not be all it’s cracked up to be. New Mexico’s Legislative Education Study Committee Thursday heard a report that although the K-3 Plus program does boast significant short-term gains in participating students’ math, reading, and writing proficiency, over time, that advantage flattens out. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Damon Cann, an associate professor of political science at Utah State University, presented the study, says New Mexico’s current 24-million-dollar investment in what Governor Martinez this month called a “successful” K-3 Plus program, may not be paying off. A new bill in the upcoming legislative session seeks to more than double that financial investment to bring the program to more schools and students. Cann says increased participation might turn K-3 plus into a winning strategy—55% of New Mexico students between Kindergarten and 3rd grade already participate, but Cann says one of the barriers to long-term improvement is that when participating students return for the new school year, they have to start back at the beginning with students who did not receive K-3 plus instruction.
In further education news, New Mexico's Secretary of Education has been dropped from a whistleblower lawsuit filed by Albuquerque Public Schools' chief finance officer. A First District Court judge ruled Thursday that Hanna Skandera was named in the suit for actions related to her job responsibilities and that makes her immune under tort law. Don Moya sued Skandera, former superintendent Luis Valentino and the APS Board of Education a few weeks after he was placed on administrative leave in early August. The suit says Moya raised concerns about a contract awarded to a Denver company whose chief operating officer had worked with the newly hired deputy. Moya's attorney contends Skandera and Valentino conspired against Moya. The Albuquerque Journal reports that Moya will remain an APS employee at least through Feb. 15.
Former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Tommy Rodella has lost his second appeal of a civil rights violation conviction, for which he’s currently serving 10 years in prison. The Albuquerque Journal North reports the 10th Circuit US Court of Appeals in Denver maintains that Rodella did not have probable cause to arrest 26-year-old Michael Tafoya in an off-duty traffic stop in March 2014, and that testimony given by three other motorists who said they’d experienced aggression from Rodella during traffic stops was admissible. Rodella was accused of provoking Tafoya’s speeding and stop sights violations through intimidating driving leading up to the March 2014 traffic stop that landed Rodella in lockup. The incident has been referred to as “bizarre” and an act of “road rage.” Rodella is the husband of New Mexico Democratic Representative Debbie Rodella.
An officer whose fatal shooting of an unarmed teen was highlighted in a U.S. Justice Department report has been named as the Albuquerque police union's vice president. The Albuquerque Journal reports that Justin Montgomery says he never set out to be involved in a shooting, and it doesn't represent the entirety of his career. The shooting of 19-year-old Andrew Lopez was found to be justified.Montgomery’s appointment comes just as union president, Stephanie Lopez, resigns from her post amid charges that she battered her 14-year-old daughter over a utilities shutoff notice. Lopez has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
A judge is set to hear arguments over whether to continue blocking an anti-abortion group from releasing recordings that it secretly gathered at annual meetings of the National Abortion Federation, an abortion providers' association. U.S. District Judge William Orrick in San Francisco has scheduled a hearing for Friday to determine whether to grant the National Abortion Federation's request for a preliminary injunction against the Center for Medical Progress. The center has released several secretly recorded videos that it says show Planned Parenthood employees selling fetal tissue for profit, which is illegal. The National Abortion Federation says members of the center infiltrated its meetings and recorded its members. The group says release of any audio or video would put members in danger. The Center for Medical Progress says its work is the equivalent of investigative journalism and protected by the First Amendment. The recordings released so far have been slammed by Planned Parenthood as deceptively edited and misinforming.