An opinion released this week by the New Mexico Supreme Court revisited conclusions drawn in a disciplinary matter dating back to 2014 of alleged abuse of subpoena power on the part of Emilio J. Chavez, who was then Taos deputy district attorney, and lack of oversight by Eighth Judicial District Attorney Donald Gallegos.
The Supreme Court reprimanded Chavez and Gallegos in March of last year after a disciplinary board found that Chavez had violated Rule 16-404(A) of the “Rules of Professional Conduct,” rules that set standards of conduct for legal professionals, when he issued at least 94 subpoenas used to investigate individuals prior to charges being filed and without approval from a judge or grand jury.
“Because there were no cases, there were no parties, and so Chavez issued the subpoenas without notice to the individuals whose information was being sought,” Chief Justice Barbara J. Vigil wrote in the opinion.
In one case, subpoenas were issued to investigate individuals connected to an armed robbery that occurred at the Kit Carson Electric Co-op offices in April 2013. The subpoenas were used to gather phone records from various phone service providers – an act that attorneys representing Chavez and Gallegos argued was a legal “gray area.”
The board concluded that Gallegos was found to have violated Rule 16-404(A) and Rule 16-501(C) for approving the practice of issuing subpoenas to gather phone subscriber information. However, it was found that Gallegos had only known of such subpoenas specifically relating to the robbery case and was unaware they had been submitted unlawfully.
A hearing committee designated by the disciplinary board ultimately found that research into the issuance of the subpoenas had been “reasonable and thorough” and that neither Chavez nor Gallegos had “knowingly avoided or subverted a legal obligation or duty arising from either of their respective offices.”
The disciplinary board disagreed with several conclusions drawn by the committee and recommended formal reprimand of Gallegos and public censure for Chavez. The board also recommended that the respondents share costs for the disciplinary action.
At the end of the hearing, the court ruled that Gallegos and Chavez would receive formal reprimands for one year to be automatically withdrawn if no further violations of the “Rules of Professional Conduct” were committed.
The fallout from the incident ultimately proved to be of little public consequence for the respondents, as Gallegos won re-election to a fifth term as chief prosecutor last year and Chavez was appointed as an Eighth Judicial District Court judge, based in Ratón – thought to be the youngest such judge in the state.
Both respondents said they are finally looking at putting the ordeal behind them.
“The period of probation ends in about a month,” Gallegos said during a phone interview this week.
He said that as soon as the investigation began, his office created new policies regarding the request and approval of subpoenas.
Gallegos also added that they were asked to address training and follow up. “We have regular attorney meetings where we discuss the topics of the day – whether legal or ethical – anything that applies to the office,” he said.
Chavez declined to comment on the case and instead referred The Taos News to his attorney, Bill Reardon. “I’m sure it’s made him a little bit more cautious,” Reardon said via phone this week. “But from what I understand, he does a great job and people like what he does. The events are behind him and he’s moved on.”
The April 2013 robbery investigation, filed under State v. Martinez, however, remains before the Court of Appeals, as defendants successfully submitted a motion to quash their indictments in October 2013.