ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Facing a challenge from media outlets, a New Mexico district judge on Tuesday reversed his order to close a preliminary hearing on fraud charges against a Torrance [auth] County official and a contractor.
District Court Judge Kenneth Martinez also changed his mind on sealing records in the government corruption case, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/HWraCN).
The move came after the Journal and other news organizations objected to the closed proceedings against Torrance County Manager Joy Ansley and contractor Christopher M. Valdez.
Preliminary hearings are court proceedings where prosecutors present evidence for a judge to decide whether defendants should stand trial.
According to a March complaint, Ansley and Valdez each face 10 counts of fraud, making or permitting a false public voucher and conspiracy involving four projects in 2007 and 2008 — the Torreon fire station and playground, the Duran fire substation and Torrance County voting machine storage.
Prosecutors allege the defendants inflated costs on the projects to $470,000. Both Ansley and Valdez have pleaded not guilty.
Mathew Bradburn, Valdez’s attorney, and Ansley’s lawyer, Michael Alarid, had asked for the case to be sealed because of prosecution allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship between the defendants, which they deny. The attorneys argued that those allegations could taint potential jurors if the case goes to trial.
The Albuquerque Journal said a reporter for the newspaper was in the courtroom before the hearing started Monday and was escorted out by Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputies.
That prompted the Journal, Mountain View Telegraph and KRQE-TV to file an emergency motion seeking to have the courtroom opened to the public and the court files unsealed.
The case was transferred to Martinez after judges in the 7th Judicial District, which includes Torrance County, were recused.