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New Mexico AG draws fire for working with NYU energy center

July 15, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico attorney general’s office is drawing criticism for employing two lawyers funded by a New York University center that promotes clean energy and environmental laws.

The energy advocacy group Power the Future and the American Tort Reform Association have raised concerns, with the association describing the arrangement as an improper way for outside interests to embed attorneys in public offices.

While the NYU School of Law pays their salaries, the lawyers are managed by New Mexico officials, said Matt Baca, senior counsel for the attorney general’s office.

Baca also tells the Albuquerque Journal that dozens of employees in Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office are funded by outside sources, including federal grants or legal settlements.

Larry Behrens with Power the Future, which touts its opposition to radical environmental groups, said the arrangement makes it look as though positions in public offices are “for sale.” He also said it’s also unclear what cases have been assigned to the lawyers.

“This arrangement raises a number of transparency and ethical issues because it clearly doesn’t pass the smell test,” Behrens said. “These attorneys are funded by out-of-state billionaire Michael Bloomberg and given power over the people of New Mexico yet they aren’t accountable to taxpayers.”

The lawyers are employed through the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at NYU’s law school . Established with a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the center says it supports state attorneys general in defending and promoting clean energy, climate and environmental laws and policies.

The center announced in 2017 that New Mexico was among the first seven states where attorneys general would receive NYU law fellows.

The two lawyers in New Mexico work in the attorney general’s Consumer and Environmental Protection Division. They conduct research and draft correspondence and court pleadings, Baca said.

During Balderas’ tenure, the state has filed lawsuits against the U.S. Air Force over water contamination and the Environmental Protection Agency over vehicle pollution rules.

As for the practice of using outside funding to bolster their ranks, Baca said it’s been ongoing over several decades and has spanned multiple administrations within the attorney general’s office.

Baca noted that the Medicaid fraud division within the office is funded by a U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services grant and a settlement with Western Union funds employees who work on anti-money laundering programs.

The arrangement between some states and NYU was the focus of a report issued in May by the American Tort Reform Association.

“There has been longstanding concern about the relationship between outside counsel and government agencies and this new practice adds to the nature and scope of the problem with government litigation,” the report states. “It is ripe for abuse and, unless promptly addressed, is likely to spread to more government offices and more areas of litigation and policy development.”

Baca said Balderas, a Democrat, has nothing to hide and has a strong record of prosecuting political and corporate corruption.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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