Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

The saga of Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales’ appeal for public campaign financing continued on Wednesday with a short public hearing before City Clerk Ethan Watson. In June, Watson has previously denied public funding to the Gonzales campaign after fraudulent voter signatures, and campaign donations were reported by the Campaign to Keep Mayor Tim Keller. An independent investigation by the city’s inspector general found evidence of fraud committed by 11 members of the Gonzales campaign, including Gonzales himself.

Today’s hearing comes after District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid overturned Watson’s decision last week to deny Gonzales over $600,000 in public financing after what he deemed was a lack of due process by which the clerk arrived at his decision.

Attorneys representing the city reiterated why Watson denied the Gonzales campaign public financing, citing numerous instances of fraud supported by the independent investigation.

Although a district court judge ordered it, Gonzales’ attorney referred to the proceedings as a “sham.” The attorney claimed, “This hearing is, in one word, a farce.” Gonzales’ attorney accused the city clerk of failing to hold a proper hearing and of harboring preconceived intentions to deny Gonzales public financing. In response to the allegations of fraud brought by the city’s attorneys, Gonzales’ attorney compared the latest hearing to a “sham hearing before the same biased decision-maker.” The city clerk is appointed by the mayor and the appointment is approved by the City Council.

Despite the campaign’s admission that they had forged signatures, Gonzales’ attorney complained about the toll the hearings have taken on the mayoral campaign. According to Gonzales’ attorney, the series of hearings and the denial of public financing left Gonzales unable to run his campaign, leaving the campaign in limbo as they appealed the clerk’s decision. Before addressing each allegation, Gonzales’ attorney referred to the hearing as “meaningless.”

“The clerk could have given us a fair hearing, but I don’t know why we thought he would,” Gonzales’ attorney stated. In one of their rebuttals to the allegations, the Gonzales campaign noted that—despite evidence of fraud in their methods to collect signed campaign contributions—they still collected 403 more campaign signatures than were required, which meant the forged certifications could be tossed out and the sheriff would still qualify.

Immediately afterward, Gonzales’ lawyers filed a Writ of Superintending Control with the New Mexico Supreme Court. The writ (or petition) named both Watson and Judge Biedscheid. The petition asked the court to vacate Biedscheid’s decision and order the judge to reverse Watson’s decision “for real this time” so that his campaign receives public financing. “Allowing this decision to stand means the election is all but over.”

Watson said he would announce his final decision to either deny or grant Gonzales public financing again by Thursday at 10 am.

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Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

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