COURT SETBACK: The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that a suit aimed at kicking Rep. Sandra Jeff, D-Crownpoint, off the ballot is still alive.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE – Sandra Jeff‘s career at the Roundhouse is in jeopardy.
On Wednesday morning, the New Mexico Supreme Court, in a 4-1 ruling, sent back a legal case challenging the number of valid signatures that Jeff turned in for her re-election effort.
That means the Democratic state representative who has often voted with Republicans in the House of Representatives will have to prove in court that at least 78 of the 91 candidate signature petitions Jeff filed are from registered Democrats who are eligible to vote in House District 5, which is made up largely of members of the Navajo Nation.
If not enough of those signatures are deemed valid, then Jeff, who has served for six years, will not have her name on the ballot for the June 3 primary.
“I’m totally happy,” with the court’s decision, said Larry King, a Churchrock voter who filed the challenge said after the hearing. King supports Doreen Johnson, one of two of Jeff’s primary opponents.
Wednesday’s ruling overturns a significant part of an earlier ruling by District Court Judge Louis DePauli, who ruled against King on technical grounds, saying King’s attorneys did not properly serve Jeff with the papers challenging the petition signatures.
The justices determined that a final decision on the lawsuit will now be made by Judge DePauli between April 18 and April 21.
The timing of a decision is a big consideration because the Secretary of State’s Office must print and send out ballots to overseas and absentee voters in the run-up to the primary.
A voicemail message from New Mexico Watchdog to Rep. Jeff asking for reaction to Wednesday’s decision has not been returned.
With the House closely divided between 37 Democrats and 33 Republicans, the fate of Jeff’s seat figures to crucial in this election season. Liberal groups and many Democrats have been itching for a primary challenger to defeat Jeff and the environmental organization, Conservation Voters New Mexico, is supporting King’s legal action.
“She’s terrible on the environment,” said Demis Foster, the executive director of CVNM.
King’s attorney, Sara Berger, told reporters after the hearing that “we have affirmative proof” that Jeff did not turn in enough valid signatures to put her name on the June ballot.
Berger claims there are six duplicates and up to a dozen signatures from ineligible voters listed on Jeff’s petition form. “We feel confident about our results,” Berger said.
New Mexico Watchdog left a message with Jeff’s attorney, Germaine Chappelle of Santa Fe, asking for comment but has not heard back from her.
UPDATE 4/19: A hearing in Judge DePauli’s court on Friday did not reach a decision. The hearing will resume Monday (April 21) with a verdict expected by 5 p.m
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