Judge gives go-ahead for treasurer recall

BERNALILLO COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – Late Thursday afternoon, a state District Court judge ruled that a recall of Bernalillo County Treasurer Manny Ortiz can move forward.

Supporters of the effort must gather more than 82,000 signatures from registered voters to put the measure on November’s general election ballot. There’s no deadline for how long the petitioners have to gather the signatures.

Albuquerque resident George Richmond filed a five count petition with the court in November requesting the necessary judicial permission to proceed with the effort.

“I am pleased, but there’s a lot of work to do between now and the general election,” Richmond said.

Malott upheld just one of the five counts in the petition, but that was enough. Judge Alan Malott found that there was “substantial evidence or probable cause to believe that Mr. Ortiz has committed misfeasance or malfeasance” in his management of taxpayer-funded investments.

The judge dismissed three other counts, including two that alleged Ortiz had violated his oath of office. Those counts were dismissed because plaintiff’s attorneys failed to enter a copy of the oath into evidence during the proceedings.

A fifth count was dropped by Richmond’s attorneys more than two weeks ago.

“I’m disappointed,” a visibly shaken Ortiz said as he walked briskly from the courtroom, trailed by a throng of reporters. He declined to answer several other questions, and as he approached the doors of the courthouse elevator, Ortiz was growing increasingly emotional.

Malott’s ruling came after a day of testimony from Deputy Treasurer Fidel Bernal, who defended Ortiz’s performance in office. Bernal ripped into a report issued by State Auditor Hector Balderas, saying it was rushed and that it didn’t give the treasurer enough time to respond to findings.

The recall effort comes just a year into Ortiz’s term as treasurer – and as county officials grapple with millions of dollars in potential losses they say Ortiz’s strategy has caused.

Throughout the court proceedings, the treasurer was without longtime colleague Patrick Padilla, who had been the county’s investment officer under Ortiz until Padilla’s retirement a few weeks ago. Padilla served as treasurer from 2005-2012 and Ortiz was his second-in-command during that time.

In the courtroom Thursday were several members of Ortiz’s family.

After the hearing, Richmond told reporters he has a “grand strategy” to gather the signatures that includes setting up a website.

He said that, up until now, the process has taken too long.

“Candidly, this should have been a 10-day process,” Richmond said. “Instead, it took 31 days… There’s still a lot to learn. How do you get 82,000 people to sign a petition?”

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