2021 ABQ Mayoral Race

Judge Finds No Evidence of Bias, Rules Against Manny Gonzales’ Appeal for Public Financing

A judge has once again denied Bernalillo Sheriff and Albuquerque mayoral candidate Manny Gonzales’ bid for $660,000 in public campaign financing. 

The decision comes after multiple appeals, including most recently to the Supreme Court, and may be the final blow to Gonzales’ quest to have taxpayers fund his mayoral campaign.

Gonzales was first denied the public financing in July after Incumbent Mayor Tim Keller hired private investigators to review Gonzales’ qualifying signature and contribution forms. Numerous instances of fraud were found, violating campaign ethics rules.

“While much is made and much effort is expended trying to paint (City Clerk Ethan) Watson as a sort of ‘instrument’ of the mayor, that is not legally true,” First District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid said Tuesday. “He is the Albuquerque city clerk who that has been vested with authority and duties under Albuquerque ordinances. The Court is not in a position to rewrite those ordinances or make them clearer.”

Biedscheid went on to state that “the Court does not have any evidence before it that the clerk had exhibited bias or prejudged the matter prior to determining that there were good grounds to determine that fraud or forgery were present and to deny the certification.”

“The fact that the city clerk has his role and that it involves making election decisions where an incumbent might be involved — which I assume is going to happen at least every other election, potentially — that does not give rise to the kind of bias that would mean that his participation violates the candidate’s due process rights.”

He said that Gonzales is afforded the right to understand why he was denied the financing, to understand what allegations were issued that gave rise to said denial, and the right to confront those allegations.

It was on this basis that Biedscheid remanded the case back to the city clerk on August 27. A September 1 “due process” hearing was held, but Gonzales’ attorneys essentially declined to participate in the process, calling it a “sham.” They did not challenge the evidence presented, did not submit new evidence, and did not call witnesses, and as such the clerk ruled again to deny public financing, at which point the Gonzales campaign appealed the decision to the courts again.

“There has been really nothing presented to the Court to indicate that the clerk’s initial finding was fraudulent, arbitrary, capricious, that it wasn’t supported by substantial evidence,” Biedscheid said. 

“But it’s not the role of this Court to rewrite the Albuquerque ordinances, the ethical election code, or anything else,” he said. 

The Court ruled that Gonzales was afforded due process and that there was no evidence that the city clerk violated that order during the September 1 hearing. “The city clerk’s decision following that will stand.”

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