LL candidate suit dismissed for second time

........................................................................................................................................................................................

After more than two years, a lawsuit contesting the election of Los Lunas Councilor Amanda M. Perea has been put to rest.

Perea's election to the District 1 seat in the March 2012 municipal elections was contested by candidate Helen Y. Cole, who lost the election.

On May 20, the case was dismissed for a second time this year by District Court Judge George P. Eichwald.

"I have always said from day one, I would trust in the judicial system and I will continue to do that," Perea said.

"We were happy it was finally set to rest," said her attorney, Tibo J. Chavez.

Cole ran for the seat against Perea, but lost 132 to 133. She filed a law suit on April 4, 2012, in district court, claiming five of Perea's voters were ineligible to vote because they did not live in District 1.

The case languished in 2013 as judges removed themselves from the case or new judges were requested for the case.

Chavez filed a motion to dismiss the case, and on June 5, 2012, requested a hearing for the motion.

Eichwald was assigned to the case on June 29, 2012, and dismissed the case the following February for lack of persecution.

Cole and her attorney, Alvin Rey Garcia, filed a motion to set aside the dismissal in March, saying at the time that they had been waiting for the judge to tell the defendant to comply with procedure and request a hearing for a decision.

Garcia said it wasn't their obligation to do that.

This month, Judge Eichwald's decision to dismiss the case again was based on two findings, one of which was that the burden to move the case along was the responsibility of the petitioner, and they failed to do so, Chavez said.

The judge's findings were that no timely action had been taken since the time of the election, and based upon the court record, there was nothing stopping Cole and her attorney from taking any action to bring the matter to trial.

"There was nothing, such as a stay entered or an injunction âˆ' some reason that would have prevented them from going forward with the case," Chavez said. "There was nothing preventing them from doing something so simple as asking for a trial."

The judge said there are hundreds, even thousands of cases on their court docket and the judges cannot be expected, and are not expected under the rules, to call every petitioner or attorney and tell them they need to move their case along, Chavez said.

"It's not the obligation of the court," he said.

But Cole's attorney said they followed the rules of civil procedure waiting for Chavez's hearing.

"What would have happened after the dismissal âˆ' we believe we would have won on the dismissal if that issue had ever gone to hearing âˆ' and then they would have been forced to answer the actual allegations in the complaint, which has never happened," Garcia said.

"I always thought we had a good case based on merit, unfortunately the merits of the case won't get to be heard."

Cole has not decided if she will appeal the latest ruling.

"She hasn't made a decision whether she wants to appeal that yet," Garcia said. "I think what she really does want is for there to be a public review of the evidence that's included in the lawsuit that was originally filed because it has a lot of merit."

Garcia said Perea and her attorney have never denied the issues and allegations, but Chavez maintains they have always denied them and that's why they filed for a dismissal.

"I'm happy that Amanda's now able to proceed with her duties of public service as an elected official in Los Lunas without the matter of this lawsuit that was looming for so long," Chavez said.

"Any time there is an election contest, until the courts have made their final decision, even if you feel like we did that, it was not a valid claim … the court has to make a decision."


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