Sheriff candidate files injunction against county

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By Tris DeRoma

White claims the county is not following its own charter and ordinances. 

He said he wants a district court judge to order Los Alamos County to restore its sheriff’s office.  White’s previous attempt to get the New Mexico Supreme Court to get the county it’s decision to defund and the cut the sheriff’s entire staff was rejected. This time, White is taking a different strategy.

“What I’m asking the court to do is order the county to follow its own charter, follow their own ordinances and follow state statute that specifically says H-class county or home rule municipality,” White said. “I’m not asking the judge to decide constitutional or statutory issue like I did for the Supreme Court.”

White wants the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s Office restored to where it was before the Los Alamos County Council took away its budget and most of the services it used to perform last year, including process serving. In 2016 the council voted to transfer those services, and the budget it needed to perform them, to the Los Alamos County Police Department. 

In November 2016, residents voted in a referendum for council to keep the sheriff’s office. Council didn’t, and Los Alamos County Sheriff Marco Lucero sued the county in 2017. 

“…I want the judge to order the county to follow their own laws. They came up with these laws, they need to follow them,” White said. 

The county countersued, and the two cases have been tied up in court ever since. Lucero is only allowed to maintain the county’s sex offender list and check up on the offenders. He now has a $7,000 annual budget. 

One of the county’s arguments White takes issue with is the county’s interpretation of what it can do as an H-class, incorporated county. 

In its lawsuit against Lucero, the county said it can use its H-class status to prevent a duplication of services between the Los Alamos County Police Department and the Los Alamos County Sheriff’s Department. 

“This constitutional ability provides a remedy to the waste associated with the duplication of services that would occur if an incorporated county had to fund county officers while also providing similar or same services through its powers as a municipality,” a statement in the county’s lawsuit against the sheriff said.

White said the county can’t do that, according to its own laws it passed in 1976, which White says actually prevented the county from abolishing the sheriff’s office. 

White also said that in 2010, a number of charter sections were changed to align with state statutes.  

“If ever the legislative rule of intent was to restrict the powers and duties of the sheriff, they would have put something in legislation that says, ‘this does not apply to an H-class county. They never did that,” White said.

If the state would follow its own laws, the sheriff’s office would have to be made operational again, he reasoned.

White would like to have the courts make a decision by March 13, the day all candidates for office have to officially declare their candidacy. 

“If this isn’t all settled by the district court and then the Supreme Court by the beginning of March, it’s very detrimental to all the citizens of Los Alamos and people that want to run for sheriff, no matter what party they are, and all the voters,” White said. “There aren’t a lot of people that want to run for an elected office who cannot be sure of what their duties are, what their staff is, or what their budget is. That becomes unfair to everybody that wants to vote, because maybe somebody would decide not to run for sheriff because of the uncertainty, whereas they would have run for sheriff if they were certain.”