(Editor’s note: This guest column is responding to a guest column by state Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, that was published in the Aug. 8 Observer.)
Why has state Rep. Daymon Ely authorized the transfer of $85 million out of the consumer protection fund instead of directly spending it on consumer protection benefits?
That is the operative question arising from Rep. Ely’s sudden interest in the handling of a case by the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General that brought nearly $1.2 million to the state from a corporation that preyed on New Mexican consumers.
Setting aside that Rep. Ely is grossly overstepping the separation of powers by interfering with the executive branch’s prosecution and the discretionary decision of the judiciary in the case, his misuse of his status as a legislator to mislead the public and his legislative colleagues raises that fundamental question.
Rather than spend that money on direct benefits to consumers, he has spent it on other priorities and pet legislative projects.
Another fascinating question arising from Rep. Ely’s sudden interest in this case is, what has he done to fund law enforcement prosecutions of these companies?
He attempts to obfuscate his total failure to provide any meaningful litigation expenses to our office, despite a request every year in our budget.
For context, the national opioid crisis litigation has cost an estimated $9 million thus far, and that is before it even gets to trial.
How much money does he appropriate to the Office of the Attorney General for litigation expenses in any given budget year? Less than $1 million.
Why also would Rep. Ely attack a judge for ordering that certain records in the case be made confidential when state law, set by his own body, expressly prohibits the Office of the Attorney General from disclosing records involving corporate corruption investigations?
Never mind that it was a judge’s decision to seal records and that a lawyer knows it is against our ethical obligations to baselessly attack a tribunal; a simple review of the law shows that he and his colleagues have made it the policy of the state that these records are not subject to disclosure.
All of these questions raise a single one: Why the sudden interest from Rep. Ely?
I am sure it is not a deflection to cover up his total failure to do anything meaningful for consumers during his tenure, or that he wilted to industry pressure and offered poor New Mexicans a 99 percent interest rate on predatory payday loans.
I am sure it could not be to deflect that the record recoveries in consumer litigation over the past six years have not been properly invested into consumer protection services.
I am also sure that it could not be that as a trial lawyer, he has a direct interest in complaining about fees paid to other trial lawyers, considering I am sure that he does not waive his own fees in private practice.
Whatever it is, I am pleased that Rep. Ely is finally seeing the need to invest in consumer protection and law enforcement that will actually benefit the State of New Mexico.
(Hector Hugo Balderas Jr. is an American lawyer and former prosecutor who has been the attorney general of New Mexico since 2015. In 2006, Balderas became the youngest statewide Hispanic elected official in the nation when he won his first race for New Mexico state auditor at the age of 33.)