N.M. Legislator System Under Fire in Corruption Case
The corruption trial of former state Sen. Phil Griego is causing a reexamination of the state's citizen legislator system. Griego is charged with violating laws on bribery, fraud and ethical misconduct. Prosecutors for the state Attorney General’s Office claim that Griego used his influence as a legislator to pressure his fellow lawmakers into approving the sale of a historic state building, earning himself a $50,000 real estate commission. The scandal highlights what some lawmakers say is an inherent problem in our state's legislator system—the only one in the nation that does not pay legislators a salary. Lawmakers must either be retired or have other jobs when they aren't in session. Griego and his attorneys are defending his actions, saying that in such a system, conflicts of interest are inevitable. They also argue that Griego's role in the sale didn't come about until after it had been made. They say he did not vote on the sale and did not apply any political pressure to his colleagues. In 2015, Griego signed an agreement stating that he had asked someone else to introduce the resolution authorizing the sale. Griego's lawyers say he has not committed any crimes, and that he was unaware of a provision in the state Constitution which prohibits legislators from having an interest in any state contract authorized by laws passed during their tenure.
Court Battle Between Health Care Providers Stalls
The five-year-old legal battle between the New Mexico Cancer Center in Albuquerque and Presbyterian Healthcare—two of the state’s best known health care organizations—has been put on hold. Before 2002, doctors at the New Mexico Cancer Center provided treatment for cancer patients in the Presbyterian Healthcare system. This practice stopped after the construction of the New Mexico Cancer Center, and the founders filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against Presbyterian alleging that the organization acted purposefully to put New Mexico Cancer Center out of business. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim Presbyterian lowered monetary reimbursement to the New Mexico Cancer Center, threatened to terminate the center’s provider contract, obtained and sold drugs through a federal Medicare program in an unlawful manner and told at least one patent that the cancer center was not an approved healthcare provider, along with a litany of other charges. As part of the lawsuit, the cancer center is seeking three times the amount of lost profits plus punitive damages, and wants to see a court order stopping Presbyterian from engaging in alleged anti-competitive activities. After an unsuccessful attempt to arrange a settlement this past summer, the case was supposed to go before a jury over the fall, but will be unable to continue until it has been determined if the cancer center’s founders would be testifying as expert witnesses or fact witnesses. No court date has been set. Presbyterian’s attorneys claim that the cancer center is using the lawsuit as part of a demand for higher reimbursements and more patient referrals.