As The Independent went to press, Judge Maria Sanchez Gagne issued a “writ of execution” against Edgewood Mayor John Bassett, which orders the Santa Fe County Sheriff or a deputy “to remove Defendant John Bassett from his office as Mayor for the Town of Edgewood” on Nov. 4.
It’s the latest in the legal battle over the governing body in Edgewood, led by a group called CORE, for Citizens for an Open and Responsible Edgewood.
A lawsuit brought by Tom McGill, Jerry Powers and the late Howard Calkins against the mayor and governing body seeks to compel the town council to remove Bassett and pursue legal action against him.
“We are at a loss to understand how the judge would sign something clearly not applicable in this case,” said Marcus Rael, whose law firm is under contract to represent the town of Edgewood. Rael said that means he represents the interests of the town and all of the members of its governing body, which means the town councilors and the mayor.
McGill and Powers created CORE, which successfully petitioned for a special election to change Edgewood’s form of government. That election was held Aug. 24, with voters approving, by a wide margin, the change from the council-mayor format to commission-manager.
An opinion by the Attorney General says that Edgewood’s governing body will remain in its current council-mayor configuration while it plans for the transition to commission-manager, at which point five commission seats will be up for election, in November, 2021, with the newly seated commissioners coming into office in January, 2022.
On Oct. 28, the day before the judge issued the writ of execution, two town councilors, Sherry Abraham and Audrey Jaramillo, filed a motion in the case seeking to intervene and prevent Rael from filing any further pleadings on behalf of the town, saying in their pro se motion, “There has … been no action taken by the Commission/City Council of Town of Edgewood which validly authorizes the [Rael’s law firm] to enter its appearance on behalf of Edgewood in these proceedings or otherwise file proceedings on behalf of Edgewood.”
The motion also says that because Bassett “has been removed as Mayor of Edgewood” that he is prohibited from voting on issues, and that Rael’s law firm “is effectively representing the interests of Mr. Bassett at public expense and without necessary approval.”
The motion also says Rael has a conflict of interest.
A hearing was held Oct. 27, on a motion by Rael on behalf of the town, seeking to have the default judgment and summary judgment Vigil had entered against Bassett set aside.
Instead, she issued a writ of execution for Bassett’s removal from office.
According to an Order for Partial Summary Judgment, Bassett “willfully violated the Nepotism Ordinance,” is “deemed guilty of malfeasance in office,” and subject to “dismissal and removal from office as mayor” and “subject to punishment for a misdemeanor criminal offense” due to violation of the ordinance.
An Order for Default Judgment says “judgment by default is entered against Defendant John Bassett” on counts including fraud.
The order also includes a writ of mandamus against the governing body of the town which would compel it to take legal action against Bassett.
Rael said legally, Bassett is still the mayor.
“John Bassett is the mayor until such time as the town seeks a writ of mandamus from the court and the court grants said writ to remove him as mayor,” Rael said. “However, the order from the judge ordering the town to seek the writ of mandamus is in our opinion invalid, because it was not properly served on the parties, and therefore Mayor Bassett did not receive the necessary due process.”
Asked about a conflict of interest, Rael said his job is “to represent the town of Edgewood, which is governed by its governing body,” adding, “In a case where there is any question whether the interests of the town of Edgewood and the interests of any member of its governing body are in conflict, I can only represent the governing body.”
On. Oct. 29, attorney Daniel Macke entered his appearance in the case representing Bassett.
On Oct. 26, Powers and McGill’s attorney Adrian Terry argued that Bassett and the town had been served properly, and that Bassett and the town had plenty of time to respond.
The response by Terry also says the town had not “demonstrated good cause to set aside judgment.”
The complaint against Bassett and the town’s governing body was brought as a “qui tam” action, meaning that the government—in this case the town and the state of New Mexico—has a case brought on the government’s behalf. In this case, it means that the town of Edgewood is named as both plaintiff and defendant.
The Attorney General declined to join the case on behalf of the state, while Sherry Abraham’s motion for Edgewood to join the lawsuit died for lack of a second at a recent town meeting.
The Oct. 26 response by Terry seeks to define the town as a defendant “only with respect to one count of the First Amended Complaint seeking a writ of mandamus.”
The response also argues that the town “was not entitled to notice of any pleadings” because of the default judgment.
The response seeks a host of items, including asking the judge to declare that the interests of the town are adverse to Bassett’s; that Rael has a conflict of interest; declaring that the town is only a defendant for one count in the Amended Complaint; declaring that the town otherwise has no standing to contest the default judgment; requesting enforcement of its default judgment, “punishable for non-compliance by contempt of court”; and requesting a writ of mandamus ordering the governing body “to initiate and diligently prosecute a complaint” against Bassett for malfeasance in office.
Meanwhile, the town council is tasked with laying out a process for the transition to a commission-manager form of government, which will include the creation of districts, in preparation for an election of five commissioners in November 2021.