Vigil-Giron, Blocks still waiting for trial
Updated: Friday, 22 Apr 2011, 8:26 AM MDT
Published : Thursday, 21 Apr 2011, 10:38 PM MDT
Reporter: Kim Holland
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It's been about two years since three former and current state officials were charged with misspending millions of taxpayer dollars.
Yet their cases, which are all being handled by Attorney General Gary King's office, continue to languish in the judicial system and cost taxpayers even more.
For example, former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron was indicted in August 2009 on fraud, money laundering and other charges for allegedly misusing $6 million on a voter education project over three years. Three others also face charges in the case.
And even though King recently admitted in an interview that it's taken a long time to deal with, Vigil-Giron's case isn't likely to go to trial anytime soon.
That's because a state District Court judge ruled in March that King's office cannot prosecute her because of an appearance of impropriety. King said he is in the process of deciding whether to appeal the ruling, refer the case to a local district attorney or give the case to a special prosecutor.
That ruling alone took eight months because of all the motions, hearings and appeals involved. And that was just for one of the cases in question.
"In this case, there are four defendants," King said. "And so there are four defense attorneys and each one of those attorneys has motions that they feel like are important to file on behalf of their client to make sure it's a fair trial."
Another example of a public corruption case going nowhere is that of Public Regulation Commission Co-chairman Jerome Block Jr., and his father Jerome Block Sr., a former PRC commissioner. Two years ago, a grand jury indicted the father and son for misspending thousands of dollars in public campaign funds.
The senior Block prepared his son's finance reports.
The younger Block won election to the PRC and continues serving today. His case is stalled at the state Court of Appeals after a state District Court judge ruled that the Attorney General couldn't prosecute Block because the Secretary of State had already fined him for the same offense.
King appealed that ruling.
"Because their caseload is so heavy, it's in a queue of cases that has to be scheduled in the Court of Appeals," he said. "That's taken about eight months so far."
Finally, there's the case of Vincent "Smiley" Gallegos. The former state representative and three others are accused of misusing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in connection with the Region 3 Housing Authority scandal.
The Supreme Court just ruled that the AG can move forward with that prosecution because there is no conflict of interest.
King said delays in the three cases can mainly be attributed to defense challenges and motions, which slow down the process, as well as court dockets brimming with cases.
"I think the fact that our court system has such a heavy caseload really delays the opportunity to move forward with some of those cases," King said.
Bob Gorence, Vigil-Giron's attorney, partially agreed with King, saying that full court dockets are to blame for the delays. He pointed out that it took the District Court a year and a half to remove the AG from Vigil-Giron's case.
However, Gorence said he didn't think the delays were the defense's fault.
King said he'd like to the courts better prioritize some cases to get them moving quicker. As of now, it may be more than a year longer before any of the three cases goes to trial.
"I think everybody should be concerned about how long it takes to bring any major criminal trial before a jury," King said.