Friday, April 13, 2007
Manny's Long March Begins: "I'm Completely Innocent," He Asserts; High Legal Drama To Come; Plus: Photos Of The Big Day, And: Friday's Bottom Lines
Once he fought mightily to preserve his political power. Now it's a fight for his freedom. Manny Aragon, arguably the most powerful state legislator in New Mexico's post WWII history, began his long legal march Thursday by entering a plea of not guilty to federal corruption charges. He did so on a gloomy spring morning dotted with raindrops and angry gusts of wind that whipped across the concrete portal of the downtown ABQ federal courthouse. It is there where Aragon's fate will eventually be decided.
For the first time since his indictment Aragon's familiar visage came before the New Mexican public whose lives he influenced for nearly 30 years as a virtuoso power player. The skills that took Aragon to the zenith in the NM Senate were learned not only at the University of New Mexico Law School from where he graduated, but from knowledge gathered over four centuries by the state's founding Hispanic families and passed down to each generation. Now, with the awesome prosecutorial power of the United States government arrayed against him, the 60 year old Aragon will need all the skills he has mastered, plus the wisdom of his progenitors, to prove to a jury that he is, as he insisted before a forest of media microphones, "completely innocent."
ON THE LEGAL BEAT
Photographer Mark Bralley, whose pictures are interspersed here, manned the courthouse beat as the high drama played out in downtown ABQ and as I gleaned insights from my legal beagles.
Will there be a trial, or will Manny cop a plea? "You don't hire two expensive legal brains and start plea bargaining. If there is to be one, it will come way down the road. Now they fight. For starters, they pick apart the government's evidence and move to have it dismissed." Analyzed a Senior Legal Beagle who has experience at the highest levels of New Mexico jurisprudence.
The legal brains he was referring to belong to Tim Padilla and Ray Twohig, two experienced trial lawyers not afraid of the street brawl this high-stakes legal case could turn into. Padilla is known for handling drug cases and is a longtime friend of Aragon. Twohig, pictured behind Manny and Padilla in the photo on the right, handled the notorious Gordon House drunk driving case and is known to relish courtroom battle. Aragon, himself a lawyer, could be helpful in assessing potential jurors, knowing as he does the cultural and political landscape of the state as few others.
TOBY & SANDRA: READY TO TALK?
Former Metro Court administrator Toby Martinez and his wife Sandra also entered not guilty pleas at arraignments Thursday, but there was a hint of a possible plea bargain down the road coming from their high-profile and high-powered defense attorney Billy Blackburn who told reporters:"Any lawyer who tells you that under no circumstances is their client going to plea is lying to you.”
PARSING OVER PARRA
Raul Parra, partner in a an ABQ engineering firm that worked on the ABQ Metro Courthouse, an $83 million project from which Aragon and other defendants are accused of stealing $4.2 million, also entered a not guilty plea. You may also recognize Parra's name from the many news stories of recent days detailing how various politicians have donated to charity campaign cash they received from his firm.
Parra's attorney, former federal prosecutor Bob Gorence, also sent up some smoke signals, rejecting questions of any Parra plea bargain and instead indicating he may argue that Metro Court judges approved Parra's expenditures which Parra (pictured on the right) is accused of inflating. "In a trial in which there will be all the witnesses and we can subpoena the judges from over in Metro Court and bring everyone over here, I think you will be writing a different story at the end of this case.” Gorence declared.
Three other defendants in the massive case, including former ABQ Mayor Ken Schultz, have agreed to plead guilty and have also agreed to testify in any trial.
A notable irony of the Thursday arraignments was its location--at the Pete V. Domenici Federal Courthouse. The state's senior U.S. Senator and his fellow Republican, ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson, have been charged by then-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias with calling him up in October of last year to try to get Aragon's indictment speeded up, an allegation that is certain to play a prominent role in Aragon's defense.
OFF THE HOOK
Now that both the radio and TV programs of racial ranting shock jock Don Imus have been cancelled, Senator Domenici and Governor Big Bill will no longer be pestered with questions on whether they will continue their roles as occasional guests on the national program. That's especially good for Pete whose spokesman was having some trouble this week imparting to us just what Domenici would do.
PETE IN A ROCKER?
Since the U.S. Attorney scandal broke, the national press has rediscovered Domenici. Here's the AP this week talking about those persistent retirement rumors.
MY BOTTOM LINES
Not everyone is celebrating Big Bill's Korean diplomatic venture. "To avoid even the appearance of partisan advantage, Richardson should have excused himself from that task. It's unseemly for the remains of U.S. soldiers to return with even a whiff of politics. They gave their lives for their country, not Richardson's campaign." That wrath from the editorial pages of the conservative Investors Business Daily...
An emailer asks: "Why don't you mention Ben Ray Lujan of the Public Regulation Commission (and son of NM House Speaker Ben Lujan) as a possible for higher office for the Dems?" OK. We've mentioned it, but Ben Ray is up for re-election to the PRC next year and unless something else opens up, expect to see him run...This is an item from earlier this week, but it's important. Big Bill is adding some long overdue national muscle to his presidential campaign...
News? Comments? Email them from the link at the top of the page. I'm Joe Monahan, reporting to you from Albuquerque, NM.
(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2007
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