Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: Lawyers Doing Their Jobs

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
January 13, 2011

Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman, who is challenging incumbent Javier Gonzales for the chairmanship of the state Democratic Party, has been in the news a lot in recent years.

Bregman, a former Albuquerque City Councilor, has been something of a go-to lawyer for Democrats in trouble. While I haven’t seen any public statements about this from Gonzales or the other candidate, Letitia Montoya, behind the scenes some Democrats are saying some of his controversial clients are baggage for Bregman.

I couldn’t get Bregman on the phone Wednesday. But in a recent video interview with Albuquerque blogger/journalist Peter St. Cyr, Bregman said, “I’m a lawyer doing my job. For someone to be that shortsighted is really silly.”

He’s right. He is a lawyer doing his job, and it’s unfair to judge a lawyer by his clients. All defendants, whether an accused murderer, or, say, a state treasurer accused of seeking bribes, deserve a good defender.

However, Bregman apparently didn’t feel that way when he was running for mayor of Albuquerque in 1997.
At the time, he was a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office. One of his opponents was former Gov. David Cargo, also a lawyer.

In August 1997, according to articles in The Albuquerque Tribune, Bregman said, “Going on four years now, I’ve gone into the courthouse trying to seek justice for victims and their families and trying to put criminals behind bars.

“Dave Cargo has spent that same time walking into the courthouse trying to keep criminals on the street. Dave Cargo has stood up for people who peddle drugs to our children, people who abuse our children, people who assault our police officers.”

To his credit, a couple of days after the controversy broke over his remarks, Bregman walked back a little, telling The Tribune, “Perhaps my comments were not in the appropriate context and perhaps the rhetoric was a little strong. ... I do not for one minute want to imply that defense attorneys do not have a very valuable place in our criminal justice system. I am certainly very supportive of a person’s right to have an attorney.”

Neither Bregman nor Cargo won that race. Jim Baca did.

Among Bregman’s most high-profile clients in recent years:

* Former state Treasurer Robert Vigil was facing multiple federal charges related to a kickback scheme involving state contractors. After two trials, Vigil was convicted of one count of attempted extortion but acquitted by a jury of 23 other extortion and racketeering charges. Vigil served 32 months in federal prison.

* Roberta Vigil, a former West Las Vegas school administrator — and related by marriage to the former treasurer — was convicted on state charges of fraud and conspiracy. She received three years of probation and was ordered to repay $13,856 in bilingual education funds to the school district.

* Marc Correra has not been charged with any crimes, but he was at the center of a state investment scandal. Between 2003 and 2008, Correra — whose father was close to then-Gov. Bill Richardson — shared in nearly $22 million in fees as a third-party placement agent to help money-management firms win investments with the State Investment Council and a state educational pension fund. Bregman represented Correra before the state Gaming Control Board when the broker was part of a team trying to start a race track and casino in Raton.

* Bruce Malott, the former chairman of New Mexico’s Educational Retirement Board, resigned in September over a questionable $350,000 loan from Anthony Correra (Marc Correra’s father). Malott has not been charged with any crime but has been named in civil suits, including those filed by Frank Foy, former cheif investment officer of the ERB.

* Alfred Lovato, a former state police guard of Richardson, was in the car driven by politically-connected lawyer Carlos Fierro when Fierro struck and killed pedestrian William Tenorio in Nov. 2008. Lovato initially was charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. But Bregman persuaded state District Judge Michael Vigil to drop the charges.

UPDATE 9:15 a.m.: The initial version of this column listed the wrong position for Frank Foy. That has been corrected.