New Mexico House speaker responds to ethics complaint

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf says a recent ethics complaint against him is an effort to distract him from work as a legislator.

Egolf made the comments Thursday in an online forum with reporters.

Retired state district judge and former district attorney Sandra Price of Aztec has filed a complain with the State Ethics Commission that accuses Egolf of promoting legislation that would financially benefit his legal practice without disclosing the conflict of interest.

The Albuquerque-based commission has made no comment on the merits of the complaint.

Egolf is co-sponsor this year of a bill that would open the way for civil rights lawsuits in state district court against state and local public officials.

The bill builds on recommendations of a civil rights commission, chartered by the Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in June as protests over police brutality and racial injustice swept the nation and New Mexico’s largest city.

Price alleges that Egolf failed to disclose during deliberations on the bill that his legal practice in Santa Fe handles civil rights claims and other civil litigation and stands to benefit financially.

Egolf called the complaint a deliberate distraction.

“I believe it is something that is designed to distract me and to discourage me from doing the work that the people of New Mexico and members of the House elected me to do,” Egolf said.

The Senate is vetting Egolf‘s legislative proposal after a vote of approval by the state House this week. Egolf voted in favor of the measure on the House floor and in committee.

Price says legislators must disqualify themselves under the state Government Conduct Act from official actions if they stand to benefit financially more than the general public.

Egolf noted that the state’s unsalaried Legislature is structured to draw on the diverse professional experience of its members.

“That is the design of the Legislature – for members to bring with them their perspective and expertise and insight and to share it with the body to help us make better decisions,” he said.

Among notable civil litigation brought by Egolf, Ferlic, Martinez, Harwood are lawsuits led by Kate Ferlic on behalf of three employees at the Superintendent of Insurance Office that denounced multimillion-dollar premium tax underpayments by an insurance carrier – and later allegations of retaliation by the insurance agency in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Attorney General Hector Balderas took over prosecution of the initial fraud complaint and reached a settlement with Presbyterian Health. The insurer agreed to pay the state $18.5 million related to averted taxes and surcharges on insurance premiums dating back to 2003-2004.

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