The day before a state hearing officer disqualified a well-connected Albuquerque attorney from the PNM/Avangrid merger case, the State Supreme Court’s committee responsible for enforcing ethics rules against attorneys had already determined that no conflict existed.
In a letter from The Disciplinary Board, an agency of the State Supreme Court, dated August 5th to Mariel Nanasi, the board said “we have found insufficient evidence to support allegations that either [Hector Balderas or Marcus Rael, Jr.] has violated the Rules of Professional Conduct.” Nanasi, herself an attorney, runs the advocacy group New Energy Economy which has been sharply critical of PNM and the merger. Nanasi had asked the Supreme Court’s disciplinary committee to take disciplinary action against both the attorney general and Rael who is a former law partner of Balderas. Nanasi also alleged that Rael had improperly billed taxpayers for legal work performed under a contract from Balderas. The board also found no evidence to support her allegation.
On Friday, August 6th, the day after the state board ruled that no conflict existed, the hearing officer issued an order disqualifying Rael from participating in the hearings based on a motion filed by Nanasi making similar allegations of misconduct. It is not clear if Nanasi or Rael had received notice of the Disciplinary Board’s decision clearing Rael when the PRC order was issued.
A spokesperson for Avangrid confirmed the decision by the board which was reviewed by The Paper. Neither Avangrid or Rael has said whether they intend to ask the hearing examiner to reconsider and restore Mr. Rael to the case.
Avangrid is seeking to merge with PNM in a deal that is now expected to include more than $65 million in rate credits for consumers, $6 million in unpaid utility bill forgiveness and millions in incentives to expand electric service to rural communities. Avangrid has also said it will invest in PNM infrastructure to help the state’s largest energy company achieve aggressive zero-carbon by 2040 goals established by the Energy Transition Act championed and signed into law by Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. The hearing on the merger continues before the PRC this week.