Bruce Duran has been removed from the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees, but he plans to take the Board to court over his dismissal.
A majority of trustees voted at the July 3 special Board meeting that Duran did not meet the qualifications to be a trustee and he was an invalid candidate in the June 26 District 6 election. This is despite Duran running as an unchallenged incumbent candidate.
The seven trustees who did not attend the member-owner meeting held after the June 26 election to certify the results are the same people who voted to disqualify Duran from serving on the Board.
Co-op contract attorney Charles Garcia, of Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP, spent more than 30 minutes dissecting court documents related to Duran’s separation from his wife, as well reviewing electricity bill payment records, to show that Duran does not meet the qualifications to be a trustee.
Duran attended the special Board meeting with his attorney A. Blair Dunn.
Garcia presented the Board with court documents he said proved Duran is no longer the owner of the property in El Rancho listed on his membership paperwork. Duran immediately said this is untrue.
Court records filed May 18, 2018 show the property attached to Duran’s Co-op membership will be transferred to a trust, with the couple’s five children listed as its beneficiaries.
“Mr. Duran, at this point, does not have ownership of the residence,” Garcia said.
Garcia did not read the entire section related to the creation of the trust to the Board.
What he left out is that the marital separation and property division agreement states Duran will continue to pay the property’s mortgage on behalf of the trust and is allowed to use the property as collateral for acquiring loans and other financing.
Although Duran was not allowed to speak during Garcia’s presentation, he said later on in the meeting that the property has yet to be put into the trust, he still owns the property and continues to pay the mortgage and property taxes.
Garcia then delved into payment records for three properties owned by the Durans using electricity supplied by the Co-op.
Director of Business Services Eva DeAguerro presented to the trustees a series of batch numbers for credit card and check payments for electricity bills associated with each of the three properties.
Garcia said these records show Duran’s wife paid the electricity bill at the address associated with Duran’s membership and he paid the electricity bills for the two properties not associated with his membership.
Garcia then referred back to the separation and property agreement, which states Duran and his wife have separate savings and checking accounts.
He said this means Duran did not purchase the electricity, which is a violation of the Co-op bylaws.
“The bylaws require that each member shall, it’s not optional, each member shall purchase from the Cooperative electric energy used on the premises specified on the application for membership,” Garcia said.
Later in the meeting, Duran said sometimes his wife pays the bill, and sometimes he does.
Garcia then said that since Duran did not put an address on his application to run in the recent District 6 election, it is unknown if he is even a bona fide resident of the district.
Another significant part of the bylaws associated with Duran’s situation has to do with the transfer of Co-op memberships, Garcia said.
The transfer of the property to a trust, as specified in the separation and property agreement, would have to be approved by the Board, he said. The trust would then be a member-owner of the Co-op, not Duran.
Dunn addressed the Board when Garcia finished his presentation.
“Respectfully, I think I’d like to start by pointing out a few of the legally incorrect things that (Garcia) went over, that bear noting by this Board,” Dunn said.
He said that a marital separation and property division agreement does not change Duran’s marital status.
“State statute holds that for purposes of membership in an electric co-op, a married couple is treated as one person even if that one person’s name is not the person that’s on the records,” he said. “Their membership is still in existence by virtue of his marriage to, his continued marriage, to (his wife.) Further, because this says that the property would be going into a trust, again, it does not change the ownership status of the property until the trust is created and (the property) is actually transferred into it.”
Dunn then said he would caution the trustees to get a second legal opinion “in order to avoid any ensuing litigation.”
“(Duran) meets the qualifications as they were laid out by your attorney to continue to be on the Board,” Dunn said. “Very simply, no evidence presented to you actually shows anything lacking in his qualifications by any legitimate legal opinion.”
Garcia then said Dunn is correct that a marital separation does not change a person’s marital status.
Despite conceding a separation is not a divorce, Garcia said Duran still violated the bylaws because he did not purchase the electricity.
“I don’t appreciate the fact that you are trying to get me off this Board with that statement you just made because it’s false and I’m going to prove it to you,” Duran then said to Garcia.
District 1 Trustee Dolores McCoy made a motion to table any action on Duran’s qualifications. She, along with District 4 Trustee David Salazar and Duran voted with her to table, but six other trustees did not.
Board President Nick Naranjo said everything Garcia presented proves Duran is not a qualified candidate to run for the Board.
Naranjo then told District 5 Trustee and Board Secretary Charlie Trujillo to make the motion that Duran does not meet the qualifications to be a trustee and was an invalid candidate in the District 6 election.
District 5 Trustee Victor Salazar, who recently lost his bid for re-election, seconded the motion.
The motion passed in a 6-3 vote.
Trujillo, Victor Salazar, District 3 Trustee and Board Treasurer Johnny Jaramillo, District 4 Trustee and Assistant Secretary-Treasurer Lucas Cordova, District 6 Trustee and Board Vice President Leo Marquez and Trustee-at-Large John Tapia voted in favor of the motion.
McCoy, David Salazar and Duran voted against it.
Duran refused to answer questions during a Tuesday telephone call and hung up mid-conversation.
Naranjo also refused to answer questions after the meeting.
When asked if every member-owner would be held to the same standard of the bylaws as Duran, and if the Co-op planned to do an audit of all member-owner payment methods, he would not answer.
“Sorry,” Naranjo said. “We have executive session right now.”
After the meeting, Dunn said he already began drafting a lawsuit because he and Duran had “some inclination that (the Board) were trying to play these kinds of games.”
He also said he is very concerned about the legal advice the Board is receiving from Garcia.
“That would be my first concern is that their attorney tried to sell them on this idea that a separation was the same thing as a divorce and then when challenged on that, he just backed off on this position,” he said.
He said he will file Duran’s lawsuit in First Judicial District Court as quickly as possible.
“They really should have taken the time to go and ask one of their other attorneys they have on contract for a second opinion before taking an action that will most assuredly end up in a lawsuit that they would very likely lose,” he said.