Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Deft Deflection: DA Brandenburg Bounces Ball Back To APD; Firmly Denies Criminal Charges; Hangs Tough And Acts Cool Amid The Heat, Plus: Santa Fe's Unusual Optimists  

Brandenburg & attorney (Journal photo)
Cool, calm and collected. That was Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg as she stared down the most difficult moment of her long public career Monday. Those expecting panic, overemoting or even a resignation amid criminal allegations that she had involved herself in burglary charges confronting her drug addicted son walked away disappointed.

Brandenburg emphatically denied any wrongdoing of any sort:

"I did not do anything wrong. I am absolutely clear I did nothing wrong or commit any violation," she declared of the bribery and witness intimidation charges brought against her by APD.

That puts her squarely on the public record without equivocation and tosses the ball back into the court of APD which has sent the investigation results to the state attorney general.

Has APD--itself drenched in scandal--overreached? Brandenburg seems confident it has. Presuming she will be cleared, she said she hopes the media gives that eventual news as much play as the charges are getting.

Brandenburg wasn't flawless during her half hour meeting with reporters at her attorney's office but she was pretty darned close. The Legal Beagles and Alligators said the DA came across poised, professional and sincere and that she also managed to connect on an emotional and human level. That was especially so when she spoke about being a single parent and the difficulty of having a child who is addicted to drugs. If APD was hoping their leak to the ABQ Journal would result in some sort of quick political knockout, they miscalculated.

There is still much to know, however. On the advice of her attorney and because she has not seen the police report, Brandenburg would not discuss details of the case or the charges. That means this show is far from over.


Even as she said she was taking the "high road" she did manage to get in some digs against her chief antagonists--APD and the ABQ Journal.

Of the newspaper she said:

We are troubled that the existence of the investigation was leaked to the Journal. . . The integrity of any investigation is compromised when there are leaks. . . At the least the motive of the investigation is called into question. . . 

The paper reported that it gained access to the case through a request under the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). It did not mention any tip or tipster. But Brandenburg pointed out that it was a leak to the Journal that prompted the paper to file the IPRA.

As for APD, she pointed to what she deemed a flawed probe:

We do have serious concerns about the investigation. Key people were not interviewed, including myself.

That raised the question of why no one at APD contacted Brandenburg who happens to be the chief prosecutor for the county. If the charges prove false it might put the city in the ironic position of being sued by Brandenburg.


This comes from one of them:

Outrage is still widespread over the failure to prosecute law-enforcement for the choke hold killing of Eric Garner in New York City. Albuquerque had a similar experience over the killing of homeless camper James Boyd. The perception (right or wrong) that the APD leak could be connected to Brandenberg's possible indictment of Keith Sandy for the Boyd killing may mean renewed national interest in Boyd's death. Only this time the narrative would be, "What police departments do when they think a DA is going to charge a cop with murder."

Brandenburg has been dubbed soft on the cops because she has not charged any officers in the dozens of police shootings in recent years that prompted a federal civil rights investigation by the Department of Justice. Looming large at the news conference was Brandenburg's continuing review of the most notorious of the police killings--that of homeless camper James Boyd. The police lapel camera video of the incident shocked the state and nation.

If Brandenburg were to ever reverse course and decide to charge police officers with a crime, it would be the Boyd case. Because she is nearing a decision on that case, it prompted speculation that dark forces were conspiring to take Brandenburg down.

If she did charge officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez in that shooting she could be accused of retaliation against APD because of its investigation of her. Is she concerned that she now has a conflict of interest and will have to turn that case over to an outside authority for final review? "We will definitely be evaluating that," she replied.

If she keeps the Boyd case in her purview she is now saying that a decision would likely come "in the spring." On November 21 the newspaper reported: 

". . . Her office was expecting to complete its review of several officer-involved shootings by Christmas. She said, a decision on whether state charges will be filed in connection to the James Boyd shooting is expected by early 2015."

It has been reported that the Feds will not charge any officers in the Boyd killing so the future of the case is all on the DA's shoulders.


Social media was awash with comment on Brandenburg's trouble, both supportive and seething. Here's a sample:

Phillip Howell wrote:

Every parent who is on the road of misery with a drugie child knows the impossibility of the journey. Nothing, other than the death of your child is as difficult as this journey. I do not know any facts, therefore any comment about Ms. Brandenburg and this story-other than the difficult journey of a child's addiction- would be wrong.

Aya Peterson said: 

She'll defend herself by pointing to the fact that she never paid these people as proof that there was never a deal. In other words, her kid ripped them off, she offered to pay for it, and then she ripped them off all over again, only now she'll be calling them liars to boot. So, she'll be victimizing the hell out of these people in her own best interest. But hey, "I have never at any time violated the law. My friends and colleagues know this."  I wonder what all the innocent people she's coerced into plea deals would say? Maybe we should ask them?

An anonymous writer did not agree that Brandenburg handled her news conference well:

I felt it was lacking. She did not deny that she offered to make restitution on behalf of her son in exchange for no charges to be filed, which is the problem. It is the appearance of impropriety and the use of her position do help her son that the public will not forgive nor forget. All she said was "I have done nothing illegal or unethical." The strongest defense is that the investigation is politically motivated, that APD leaked it, and the Journal published it, but she did not go there which tells me this is far from over..


A final note on all this. Brandenburg's criminal defense attorney is Peter Schoenberg. He may be familiar to some who remember he was also the lawyer who defended former Governor Richardson when Richardson was being investigated for corruption charges by a Federal grand jury. No charges were ever brought.


Sen. Smith
It seems odd to say but Santa Fe's budget hawks may be too optimistic. They can usually be counted on for generous doses of doom and gloom but in the face of a full-fledged bear market in the price of oil, they are rejecting the notion that it could get much worse.

Both Department of Finance boss Dr. Tom Clifford and State Sen. John Arthur "Dr. No" Smith--the most famous of the hawks flying over the Roundhouse--say that there will be about $140 million in new money for the budget year that begins next July 1. Due to the oil price crash, that is now half the original new cash estimate of $280 million.

But even as Clifford was briefing lawmakers on the outlook, West Texas crude was crashing again--down $2.88 a barrel to $66.19. By Clifford's own accounting each dollar drop costs the general fund $7.5 million.

The Legislative Finance Committee is projecting that the oil price will average $66 a barrel for the next budget year--exactly where we are right now. If we head lower and stay there, the proverbial call of "look out below" will be heard echoing around the Roundhouse Rotunda.

Clifford and Smith are not about to say the state will have to dip into its reserves next year--or God forbid--raise taxes somehow. But if the oil bear stays out of his lair a more than ample state reserve of over $610 million (about 10% of the over $6 billion projected budget) will be eyed hungrily by lawmakers.

Thanks to years of soaring oil prices Santa Fe's theme song has been, "How High The Moon?" Suddenly, the new hit is "How Low Can You Go."

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