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Judge: No law enforcement duties for county sheriff

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A First District Court Judge Wednesday ruled in favor of Los Alamos County, supporting the county’s request to bar Los Alamos County Sheriff Marco Lucero from performing law enforcement duties. 

Lucero’s attorney said he plans to appeal the decision.

Lucero filed his lawsuit in August 2017, demanding the New Mexico First District Court decide whether state law take precedence over the Los Alamos County’s Charter, which allows county council to divide duties between the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s Office and Los Alamos County Police Department as it sees fit.

In 2017, the Los Alamos County Council opted to reduce the sheriff’s operational budget to about $7,000 a year and transfer process serving duties and Lucero’s executive assistant to the Los Alamos Police Department. Lucero’s undersheriff and two deputies were laid off, leaving just Lucero with one duty to perform – maintaining the Los Alamos sex offender registry.

First District Court Judge Francis Mathew cited a previous, 1976 Los Alamos case where the same issue was discussed.

In that case, then Los Alamos County Sheriff Larry Vaughn filed a complaint similar to Lucero’s, saying that the county was illegally limiting his duties as sheriff, contrary to state law.

In the1976 case, First District Court Judge Edwin Felter said that Los Alamos County sided with the county charter, saying the county’s board of commissioners had a right to give law enforcement duties to the Los Alamos County Police Department, but that it “could not deprive the office of the sheriff of all statutory duties or of so many duties as to leave the office in name only, an empty shell, many of the functions performed by the sheriff are of a state nature and no local governing board may treat the state functions in a manner as to leave a void or to empty the office of the sheriff.”

Felter also stated in his decision that the county “only assigned to the police department exclusively duties of law enforcement within the county to eliminate duplication and competition between the police department and the office of the sheriff, with all other statutory and customary functions and duties of a Sheriff remaining with the Sheriff of Los Alamos County.”

Mathew agreed with the decision, and also barred Lucero, and his lawyer, A. Blair Dunn from pursuing the matter in court further, citing the 1976 decision.

Dunn said he plans to appeal.

“I will always think that the Vaughn case is clearly superseded by later case law that details that municipalities and local governments cannot supersede (state) statute,” Dunn said. “It’s a much more serious decision that should have been given more consideration, but we are going to take it up in a court of appeals.”

Los Alamos County Chairman David Izraelevitz said Friday he hoped the judge’s decision will discourage further legal battles over the duties of sheriff in Los Alamos County.

“I am pleased by Judge Mathew’s decision affirming the Council’s position that the Los Alamos County Sheriff should not engage in law enforcement duties,” Izraelevitz said. “I hope that the current Sheriff and anyone subsequently holding the position will abide by this decision so we don’t have additional public funds expended on this matter.”