The Piñon Post has learned on Wednesday that a former longtime judge from New Mexico’s 11th District, Sandra Price, filed an ethics complaint against Speaker of the New Mexico House Brian Egolf (D-Santa Fe), alleging the lawmaker is co-sponsoring a bill, H.B. 4, also known as the “Civil Rights Act,” which would personally benefit him in his private law practice.
The esteemed judge, who served on the bench for 12 years, notes, “By his active involvement in sponsoring HB 4, Speaker Egolf, from my review of the legislation and the committee hearings, has failed to live up to the high level of trust that the public has placed upon him.”
She wrote, “Mr. Egolf s sponsorship of this legislation is an ethical conflict under NMSA 1978, §10-16-3 and NMSA 1978,§10-16-4. These statutes governing legislative ethics are written to instill in the public a faith that legislation is transparent and ethically discharged with a high level of responsibility to the public.”
In the letter, she explained how Egolf failed to disclose conflicts of interest with this bill’s sponsorship, especially with 20% of his legal practice being in the area of Civil Rights claims and another 40% being in Civil litigation on behalf of plaintiffs.
“Thus 60% of his private legal practice would benefit from the passage of HB 4. [I]n his advertisements, he specifically mentions he handles ‘police misconduct’ and ‘race discrimination.’ HB 4 would directly benefit his practice and this conflict should have been disclosed. Even with this conflict, Speaker Egolf is the sponsor of this legislation,” wrote Price.
“Twice in committees, Mr. Egolf has voted in favor of this legislation moving forward in the legislative process. On February 8, 2021, Speaker Egolf in the House Judiciary Committee argued in favor of… HB 4 and he countered arguments made by opponents to the Bill. The Fiscal Impact Report (Ex 2) fails to indicate that Speaker Egolf has disclosed a conflict and would have financial gains if the legislation passes. The Fiscal Impact Report… specifically lists Betsy Glenn, as an employee of Harding County, as having disclosed a possible conflict.”
In another section, Price notes how Egolf “failed to ethically discharge the high responsibility of public service,” referring to testimony he gave on February 8, 2021, where he said the bill would have “zero” cost to the system regarding civil rights violations cases, as well as his snuffing off of questions pertaining to fees lawyers would benefit from with the passage of H.B. 4.
Regarding Egolf’s benefiting financially from H.B. 4, Price wrote, “House Bill 4 will directly affect Plaintiff attorney Brian Egolf’s financial interests,” saying that the removal of “qualified immunity” by state agencies and local governments would result in fewer cases being disposed of earlier, hence, meaning more billable hours.
“HB 4’s proposed by Mr. Egolf, will encourage larger settlement amounts. The longer a suit is pending, the higher the attorney’s fees [that] will be incurred. Governments will have a great incentive to pay out settlement awards in even meritless claims to save in attorney’s fees. This will benefit Mr. Egolf in his private legal practice,” writes Price.
“HB 4 will result in Mr. Egolf additional litigation being filed by Speaker Egolf s in the local State Court which is easier to navigate and more politically driven. Possibility a benefit to Speaker Egolf due to his position in the Government.”
“The amount of the attorney’s fee collected could easily be much greater than the monies collected for the person whose rights have been violated. Mr. Egolf has failed [to] mention that… both state and federal courts routinely award legally mandated Plaintiff attorney’s fees in excess of $450 per hour. Mr. Egolf several times, in front of the House Judiciary Committee on February 8, stated the importance of these attorney fees being in place for the benefit of the public and victims of civil rights violations. Speaker Egolf is sponsoring, arguing, and voting on legislation that will arguably pay his attorney fees in 60% of the cases that make up his practice.”
“I want the committee to know that I do not take the filing of this complaint lightly. Having been an elected District Judge on the bench for 12 years, I believe that candor and high [ethical] standards of our leaders are absolutely imperative,” concluded Price.
The strong case Price has made is sure to lead to an in-depth inquiry into Egolf’s possibly corrupt sponsorship of H.B. 4, which would directly benefit him if passed. H.B. 4 passed the House on February 16 with four Democrats joining all Republican members of the body in opposition to the bill. Rep. T. Ryan Lane (R-San Juan) attempted to add an anti-corruption amendment exempting legislators from benefitting off of the bill, however, the motion died, with Egolf being one of the votes helping to kill it.