A flurry of actions and a hearing in which lawyers had high-powered lawyers were part of the latest in the legal battle over the governance of Edgewood.
A hearing was held Nov. 10 by District Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne, in which she denied a motion to hold Edgewood Mayor John Bassett and the town’s attorney Marcus Rael in contempt of court.
Sanchez-Gagne also denied Rael’s motion to overturn a default judgment and summary judgment against Bassett, which says Bassett “was removed from the office of Mayor for the Town of Edgewood” which she issued Oct. 14.
Rael was represented in the hearing by attorney Paul Kennedy, who served two terms on the state’s Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Bassett had a new attorney on hand, Marc Lowry of the Rothstein Donatelli Law Firm.
Lowry had entered a motion seeking to have Sanchez-Gagne disqualified “so a neutral and impartial judge can review the matter.”
Sanchez-Gagne said he hadn’t shown that the Court had “exercised bias toward your client,” adding that “the proper remedy has been taken,” referring to two petitions to the state Supreme Court—one by Bassett and another by the town of Edgewood—asking that body to review the case.
Sanchez-Gagne said the case had been contentious, and said while the issues involved had not been tried on their merits, the default and summary judgments are still decisions of the Court.
Attorney Adrian Terry, on behalf of plaintiffs Tom McGill, Jerry Powers and the late Howard Calkins, argued that participation by Bassett and Rael in a town meeting held Nov. 2 constituted a violation of those judgments and meant they should be held in contempt.
Kennedy said that meeting had been properly convened and regularly conducted, adding that those “declaratory” judgments “have no force or effect.”
Kennedy said the only way to remove an elected official is laid out in state statute, which says the town’s governing body must make a motion to do so, and that violating a declaratory judgment is “legally impossible.”
Lowry, representing Bassett on the contempt motion, joined in all arguments made by Kennedy.
He said the court should not move forward because there has been no opportunity for the defendants to seek discovery or offer a defense. “Everything seems to be self-evident to Mr. Terry,” Lowry said, adding that the proceedings against Bassett have been “fundamentally unfair.”
Given the opportunity to rebut the two opposing attorneys, Terry said it was important to know who is representing whom and “who is entitled to say what.”
“This is not rebuttal,” Kennedy said.
Terry tried to bring up an allegation of conflict of interest for Bassett.
Kennedy again interrupted to say he hadn’t brought up conflict of interest, meaning the comment was not a rebuttal, adding to the judge, “Rein this attorney in, please.”
Terry later argued that the format of the lawsuit is an alternate statutory procedure for removing an elected official from office.
The judge also asked for comments from Sherry Abraham and Audrey Jaramillo, two of the town’s four councilors, who entered appearances in the case as intervenors, representing themselves.
Both said the town council meeting of Nov. 2 had been called illegally. “I feel like we were railroaded into a meeting,” Abraham said.
She also objected to Bassett’s participation in the meeting.
Jaramillo said Sanchez-Gagne had said three times in her memory that Bassett is no longer the mayor, adding that the meeting was improperly called for multiple reasons.
Sanchez-Gagne said there was “confusion by the defendants,” adding, “Hopefully the plaintiff has enlightened the defendants” on their position.
Saying that she was going to give Rael and Bassett “benefit of the doubt,” she denied the motion to hold them in contempt of court.
The hearing then moved on to Rael’s motion to set aside the default and summary judgments against Bassett.
Rael’s argument boils down to due process, a Constitutional principle that guarantees citizens the opportunity to defend themselves when accused.
Rael repeated his argument that because the complaint had been amended and was under seal, that neither the town nor the mayor had been properly served with Court filings.
He also argued that the town had been sent a copy of the complaint for the sole purpose of deciding whether the town wanted to join in the lawsuit as a plaintiff, and that receipt of that copy of the complaint for that purpose did not amount to proper service.
As rebuttal, Terry argued that “you didn’t show up” and said Rael had waived the right to that notice as a result.
“Mr. Terry wants everybody to follow the rules of procedure except himself,” Rael said, adding that he is “desperate to hang on to this default judgment” because he “doesn’t want to proceed on the merits.”
Sanchez-Gagne said that because Terry had sent a copy of its proposed order to Rael by email, that “you did receive service of that proposed order.” She denied Rael’s motion.
In an interview with The Independent, Kennedy said, “I’m hopeful this thing can be procedurally unwound and can be straightened out so it can proceed in an orderly fashion. It’s possible that can happen but it’s a bit of a complicated mess right now.”
He said the two petitions to the state Supreme Court were “a good place to start.”
Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.