Martinez says discrimination claim is 'bogus'

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Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney Lemuel Martinez is denying accusations that he discriminated against a former prosecutor who claims he was fired because of his age and religious orientation.

Martinez, who is running for re-election, is accused of discrimination in a claim filed by former prosecutor Leslie R. Herbst, who worked as a senior trial attorney in the Thirteenth Judicial District Attorney's Office in Grants.

Martinez, who is seeking his fourth term in office, says the former prosecutor's claim is politically motivated.

In an interview, Herbst, 61, claims he was fired because of his ethnicity and age following two to three occasions where he alleges Martinez asked him, "What are you," and "Where do your people come from."

The former trial attorney is Jewish of Russian decent.

Herbst filed a discrimination claim against the district attorney's office in August with the Human Rights Bureau of the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Herbst said he was fired in July by Martinez and replaced by Anthony Griego, a "26-year-old kid with a really bad record."

Herbst claimed he was not given a reason why he was terminated.

"All of these claims are bogus," Martinez said. "They are all political and made to make me look bad."

Martinez would not comment on why "he had to lay off" Herbst, and said he was "not at liberty" to talk about the man's job performance.

The district attorney said Herbst's claims that his deceased mother had anti-Semitic attitudes are "offensive and false."

He also said Herbst is in "collusion" with his opponent, Kenneth E. Fladager, a Republican who works as a senior trial attorney in Albuquerque.

"It's shameful that he would drag my deceased mother into this," Martinez said.

But Herbst said his claims aren't politically motivated. He said his claim, which is confidential, was leaked to the Albuquerque Journal and the Cibola County Beacon last week. The claim was also sent to the Rio Rancho Jewish Community Center, he said.

Herbst said he was a good employee with a "pretty high" conviction rate during his tenure from 2007 to 2012.

He claimed he was forced to leave the job he liked and the community where he became accustomed to living.

Herbst was the president of the Cibola Bar Association and said he was very active in the art community.

Herbst said he wouldn't have filed a complaint if he wasn't unjustly fired.

"This has nothing to do with an election," Herbst said. "I would do this if there wasn't an election — stand up for myself and assert my legal rights."

In July, Herbst said he found out about his termination letter while at the desk of an administrative assistant in the Grants office. He said he was looking at her computer screen on an unrelated issue.

"My termination letter popped up on her screen," Herbst said.

Later that day, he said the deputy district attorney handed him his termination papers — something he says human resources was unaware of.

Now, Herbst said he plans to file a new complaint following Martinez's comments in an article which was published on Oct. 18 in the Albuquerque Journal.

According to the story, Martinez said Herbst had been performing poorly as a prosecutor before his termination.

Herbst said the district attorney's comments are a form of "post-termination retaliation." He said his performance on the job is a personnel issue and shouldn't be made public.

He said he believes Martinez violated the New Mexico Rules of Professional Conduct.

"I want to enforce my legal rights and his legal obligations," Herbst said.


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