LL appoints new judge; tables Aragon attorney fee issue

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The Los Lunas Village Council appointed Henry Perea as the interim municipal judge Thursday, and tabled the expenditure request by Jeff Aragon, the former judge, for his attorney fees.

Mayor Robert Vialpando said the council was advised by the village attorney, Larry Guggino, to postpone the decision on the expenditure request until they learn of the outcome of a similar case in the state.

“There may be a Supreme Court decision that addresses the issue on point,” said Guggino at Thursday’s council meeting. “But that decision hasn’t been written yet, and that decision, when you read the Santa Fe New Mexican, seems to be on point with our issue.

“The Supreme Courts made a decision whether those things can or cannot be paid,” he said. “That’s what I mean when I say on point, so it addresses the issue directly.”

The Los Lunas Municipal Court was referred by the village attorney to Ahmad Assed & Associates for legal services when Aragon was being investigated by the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission.

The request by Aragon for reimbursement of his legal fees is nearly $10,000.

Aragon officially resigned last Friday after he had been investigated by the Judicial Standards Commission. The New Mexico Supreme Court stipulated Aragon resign permanently in lieu of further disciplinary action.

The New Mexico Supreme Court accepted the Judicial Standards Commission’s petition on July 18, and said Aragon abused his power on about 20 instances and violated judicial rules and conduct on specific dates from 2010 to 2012.

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the New Mexico Supreme Court suspended Española’s Municipal Court Judge Stephen Salazar for 90 days without pay, and put him on probation for the remainder of his term for judicial errors.

The Española City Council voted to use city funds to pay for Salazar’s legal bills on June 26.

But according to the Rio Grande Sun, the Supreme Court went one step further by forbidding Salazar from asking the city to front his legal bills, and ordered him to pay about $16,000 in fees and reimbursements.

Española council members had already voted in June to foot $7,700 worth of Salazar’s legal bills, but Mayor Alice Lucero backtracked a week later.

The mayor said the two votes that led to the decision were illegal because they did not appear on the meeting’s agenda, a violation of the state Open Meetings Act, the Rio Grande Sun reported.

Los Lunas Mayor Robert Vialpando hopes the issue will be resolved at the next council meeting, Thursday, Aug. 9

“I wanted to do it last night,” Vialpando said on Friday. “I wanted to get it over with, give it to the council, let them make their decision, do a vote on whether we should pay for it or not.”

The mayor had recommended Henry Perea for the interim municipal judgeship to the council.

Perea turned in an application Thursday morning, and told the village administrator and the mayor that he has always been motivated by his father, the late Henry Perea Sr., who also served on the Los Lunas Village Council.

Councilor Charles Griego seconded the motion to accept the appointment of Perea, and village attorney Larry Guggino asked that the recommendation be subject to establishing residency and a qualified elector of the village.

The motion was approved unanimously.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.