A judgment filed Nov. 5 in the case against John Bassett and the governing body of Edgewood says Bassett “was removed from the office of Mayor for the Town of Edgewood” in its default judgment against him Oct. 14.
Meanwhile, the town’s attorney, Marcus Rael, petitioned the Supreme Court on Nov. 5 for a “writ of superintending control” in the case, writing in its introduction, “The gravamen of this request is whether it is an abuse of discretion to deny a request to set aside a default judgment entered on a claim for a writ of mandamus and whether an elected official may be removed from public office by a district court without following the prescribed statutory process.”
The petition asks the Supreme Court to vacate the default and summary judgments and order denying amended motion; to permanently quash the writ of execution; and to direct the District Court to deny the contempt motion.
It argues again that the town was not served properly in the case, and was denied due process as a result.
The petition also argues, “Most critically, however, an Entry of Appearance on behalf of the Town, as a named Defendant, was filed on October 12, 2020—two days before default judgment was entered. Yet, Plaintiffs did not serve the Town with their Motion for Default Judgment until October 15, 2020, after the Order for Default had been entered. To date, the district court has not provided the Town with an opportunity to present its challenge to the default judgment.”
The petition further argues that state statute provides a mechanism for removal of an elected official. “The district court stated that the basis for its ruling was the Order of Default and the Order Denying the Amended Motion, though neither explicitly states that Mayor Bassett is removed from his duly elected office,” continuing, “The fundamental fact is that the district court has no authority to remove the chief executive officer of a municipality and such act is contrary to the procedure provided by state statute.”
It’s the latest in the legal battle over the governance of Edgewood, in which members of CORE, Citizens for an Open and Responsible Edgewood, have launched a multi-pronged attack against Bassett, seeking to remove him from office, including mounting a successful petition to change the form of Edgewood’s government from the council-mayor format to commission-manager.
District Judge Maria Sanchez Gagne had issued a writ of execution against Bassett, directing the Santa Fe County Sheriff or a deputy to escort Bassett from the town office on Nov. 4; the Nov. 5 judgment also quashed that writ.
The 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 on the grounds of nepotism.
The complicated case was brought on behalf of the town, meaning the town of Edgewood and its governing body are named as both plaintiffs and defendants in the case.
The group also says Bassett has sought to enrich his family through his position as mayor.
At a hearing Nov. 3, attorney Rael attempted to argue the Town of Edgewood’s position to the Sanchez Gagne.
Town councilors, Sherry Abraham and Audrey Jaramillo, entered their appearances in the case, representing themselves, and both argued to the judge that a special meeting held Nov. 2 was held illegally.
At that meeting, the council, on a tie vote broken by the mayor, had directed the town’s attorney Marcus Rael to “vigorously” defend the town against the lawsuit.
Rael had advised the governing body that the orders against Bassett had been entered improperly, adding, “In my legal opinion, [Bassett] is still the mayor of the town of Edgewood.”
At the Nov. 2 meeting, councilors Abraham and Jaramillo repeatedly made motions for Bassett to recuse himself and to leave the meeting. Bassett refused; the motions failed for lack of a majority, with Abraham and Jaramillo voting in favor, and councilors John Abrams and Linda Holle voting against.
“We have a member of the public here trying to chair this meeting,” Jaramillo said of Bassett.
In the Nov. 4 hearing, Sanchez Gagne told Rael, “The issue of your role is still pending,” adding that the Court would not entertain his arguments on behalf of the town.
Attorney Daniel Macke appeared at the hearing on behalf of Bassett as an individual, not in his official capacity. Macke’s motion to set aside the summary judgment and default judgment against Bassett was denied.
Attorney Adrian Terry argued that Bassett had been properly served in the lawsuit and also entered a motion seeking to have Bassett and Rael held in contempt of court, and said the town held a “sham meeting.”
Jaramillo and Abraham told the judge that the meeting was called illegally.
The attorney “that’s supposed to be representing us, the town of Edgewood,” said [Bassett] could be there and vote, Abraham said. “Every motion would have died for a lack of a majority had he not been allowed to participate.” She also referred to the meeting as a “sham.”
Rael said the special meeting had been called at the behest of the judge, and said that neither the town nor the mayor had received due process in the case.
Terry called for Rael and his firm to be stricken from the lawsuit, saying that Rael, Macke and Bassett were trying to defraud the Court.
The judge asked if he was representing the town or Bassett, saying, “You must be clear as to which party you’re representing.”
Macke argued that a writ of execution is not the “proper remedy” in removing an elected official, citing state statute. He also argued, as Rael had, that because the Amended Complaint had been placed under seal for 60 days, that Bassett had never been served once that seal was lifted.
Terry argued that because Bassett had been served with the original complaint, that he knew about the lawsuit and chose not to enter an appearance to his detriment.
The seal in the case was not lifted until September, and the law requires Bassett be served, Macke said, asking the judge to set aside the orders and quash the writ of execution.
When Rael said he wanted to argue why the default judgment should be set aside, the judge said the Court would not address the issue at this time.
Sanchez Gagne said it was a “novel” area without much precedent, adding that her concern is that “there has been a clear confusion as to who is representing who in this matter.”
The judge’s Nov. 5 order denied Bassett’s motion to stay the writ of execution and other motions, including a motion for an expedited decision; quashed the writ of execution; “removed [Bassett] from the office of Mayor for the Town of Edgewood; and says all orders or judgments of the Court in this action remain in full force.
Sanchez Gagne said another hearing would be set next week.
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.