Bruce Duran is once again the Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative Board of Trustees District 6 representative, changing the balance of power between the Board's two factions so that one has six votes while the other has five.
After a full day of hearing arguments Monday from attorneys representing the Co-op’s Board and those representing Duran, First Judicial District Court Judge Bryan Biedscheid ordered the Board to certify Duran’s election results.
“I’m not surprised,” Duran said after the hearing. “It was obvious that things were done incorrectly and there was, it was all about the election and they were just trying to take control of the Co-op.”
This means George Rivera, the person chosen by a majority of the Board at the organizational meeting held at the Co-op’s annual picnic in July to replace Duran for his four-year term, will no longer be a trustee.
Biedscheid limited Monday’s arguments to those concerning Duran and told his attorney A. Blair Dunn to file an amended complaint by Friday to include any remaining issues not yet addressed.
Besides representing Duran, Member-Owners Charles Wright, Robert Garcia and Patrick Herrera and Trustee David Salazar are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“I think the judge gave us a reasoned, fair decision today,” Dunn said. “We’re still going to go forward on the other three issues, whether or not (Leo Marquez) is properly on the Board, whether or not (Lucas Cordova) is properly on the Board and whether or not there was a quorum for (John Tapia) to be on the Board. All that’s for another day.”
Duran ran uncontested in his June 26 election, but the Board did not certify his election results at the June 28 meeting as they did for those in Districts 4 and 5. Instead, District 5 Trustee and then Board secretary Charlie Trujillo said there was an active investigation as to whether or not Duran met the qualifications for membership in accordance with the Board’s bylaws.
A majority of the Board voted during a July 3 special meeting that Duran did not meet the qualifications for membership because evidence brought forth by Co-op Contract Attorney Charles Garcia, of Cuddy & McCarthy, LLP, showed he was not paying for electricity and may not be a bona fide resident of District 6. This vote declared Duran was an invalid candidate in the District 6 election.
Bruce Duran and his wife Michelle Duran both testified at Monday’s hearing. They said Bruce Duran has not moved away from their shared home in El Rancho, but he has temporarily stayed at other places, including a home owned by Bruce Duran’s parents before they died and a family ranch.
The two were legally separated, but have since reconciled, Michelle Duran said. She also said that while she used her card to pay their electricity bills, her husband did give her checks for reimbursement.
Marquez, who is the District 6 trustee and Board president, testified and said the investigation into Duran’s eligibility began when the Co-op received a letter from Jason Bowles, of the Albuquerque-based Bowles Law Firm, stating Duran sought sexual favors from an employee of Secure Payment Solutions in exchange for a Co-op contract to process credit card payments.
He also said they became concerned because Duran did not write his address on his filing paperwork to run for the District 6 seat.
Co-op Director of Business Services Eva DeAguero also testified at the hearing. She said the Co-op’s software tracks the type of payment, such as credit card or electronic check, made on a person’s account, as well as noting the number of accounts held by Duran and which account was attached to his Co-op membership.
The day’s hearing was plagued by a general sense of discontent between the two parties. There were disagreements between the attorneys as to whether they sent copies of exhibits to each other on time and they also interrupted each other as they spoke.
Biedscheid took a candid approach before making his formal ruling and said “that perhaps Mr. Duran should be reinstated” on the basis of residence and being a bona fide resident of his district.
He also asked the attorneys to tell him how much time it would take the Co-op to notice a meeting to follow the removal process of a trustee by the member-owners as outlined in Article 4 of the bylaws, as well as what substantial commitments the Co-op has made between the time Duran’s election results were not certified and the present.
Dunn said there should be no determination by the Court regarding the removal of Duran by member-owners and that he and Duran did not think the Co-op should vacate any contracts or decisions made during this time period.
Before giving his answer, Garcia said the issue of Monday’s hearing did not only have to do with Duran’s residency and this was a “mirage” for Dunn and Duran to make their argument.
“But when you look at everything that was put together, everything that the Board was made aware of and it’s very clear that the Board acted in good faith, I believe those were the words that came out of your mouth, your honor, when you listened to what went on with regards to the decision made by the Board,” Garcia said. “Under the Business Judgment rule your honor, that’s the standard. If the Board acted in good faith, then that’s the end of the inquiry. It isn’t a question of whether or not they decided the right thing.”
Garcia also said the Co-op would be in a worse situation if Duran was reinstated because of the allegations made in the letter from Bowles and he increases the liability of the Co-op.
He also said that it would take the Co-op a minimum of 90 days to notice the member-owners of a meeting to begin the process for member-owners to remove Duran from the Board.
This is contrary to the bylaws, which state a vote to remove a trustee should happen within 45 days from the time a member-owner files the petition for removal.
Discontent extended into the audience.
As Marquez re-entered the courtroom and sat down in the audience prior to Biedscheid’s ruling, he said “This guy’s an idiot.”
Co-op Board Executive Assistant Laura Rendon then replied “I know.”
The issues between member-owners and trustees has been a growing problem at the Co-op, and New Mexico State Police now routinely attend the Board’s monthly meetings.
Biedscheid also said he is concerned about issues relating to the need for law enforcement and security at Co-op meetings.
“The Court is hoping that with notice and an opportunity for members and trustees, including Mr. Duran, to state their positions and defend them that maybe we can get back to, and maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’ll just make things worse, but I hope that shining some light procedurally on this might get this Co-op back to the position where there’s not a concern about civility at meetings or things that would require this concern about the sheriff or State Police or the need for them,” Biedscheid said. “Again, that’s maybe wishful thinking but that is my thinking and my hope.”