ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas’ handling of a now-settled case involving a large solar installation company has spurred a request for an investigation from a state lawmaker .
Representative Daymon Ely asks State Auditor Brian Colón, who is a friend of Balderas’, to examine why the Attorney General agreed to seal all documents in the case against Vivint Solar Inc. Ely also wants to know why Balderas does ‘pursued no specific compensation for thousands of customers in the context of the settlement reached last fall.
The request follows a separate complaint against Balderas in a multibillion-dollar merger case involving a subsidiary of global energy giant Iberdrola and New Mexico’s largest electricity supplier. State regulators have yet to approve the deal, which will affect half a million customers and likely change the way electricity is produced and delivered in the state.
Ely, a Democrat from Corrales, said the Democratic attorney general had accepted a protection order requested by Vivint that hampers consumers’ ability to gather critical evidence when pursuing individual complaints against Vivint.
The order may also violate the state’s public records inspection law, according to Ely and lawyers seeking redress for defrauded clients.
“The AG’s office appears to be complicit in hiding from public scrutiny what could be a million documents, including documents critical of allegedly abusive practices employed by Vivint,” Ely said in a letter to Colón which was obtained by the Albuquerque Journal..
Stephanie Telles, spokesperson for the auditor, said Colón staff were reviewing Ely’s request.
Balderas initially filed a lawsuit against Vivint in 2018, accusing the company of deceptive marketing practices that resulted in consumer fraud and racketeering involving thousands of homeowners in central New Mexico.
Although Vivint has denied the allegations, it has agreed to change its practices to ensure that potential clients are fully informed of contract details. He also accepted a settlement payment of $ 1.95 million, the bulk of which was for the AG’s office and legal fees and attorney fees from a private law firm that assisted in the case.
The regulation did not provide for any refund for individual consumers.
Balderas said earlier this year that the result may help protect potential customers from misleading marketing in the future, and that settlement funds will be reinvested in AG’s future consumer protection efforts.
Balderas said his office accepted the confidentiality order because it protected private information about the people gathered during the discovery.
But attorneys representing individual consumers said the order set a dangerous precedent for New Mexico’s open records law.
“I am convinced that the information and evidence gathered by the AG during the investigation of a case belongs to the people of New Mexico,” said attorney Patrick Griebel, who was unable to access the documents of the business he is pursuing. “The victims in this case should have the tools to pick up where the GA left off. The AG’s investigation was conducted on taxpayers’ money, and if the settlement agreement means that everyone is on their own to pursue restitution, then we should have access to the fruits of this investigation.
In the utility merger case, watch groups filed complaints last week with the state auditor, state ethics commission and Supreme Court disciplinary board from New Mexico that highlight Balderas’ relationship with a local law firm. They allege that Albuquerque-based lawyer Marcus Rael Jr. used his influence to convince Balderas to approve the merger and that Balderas awarded Rael numerous contracts and approved irregular invoices.
Balderas and Rael both graduated from the University of New Mexico Law School in 2001 and briefly worked together before Balderas ran for public office.
New Energy Economy executive director Mariel Nanasi said she took an interest in the matter when Rael was hired at $ 400 an hour by Iberdrola, the Spanish company looking to increase its stakes in the United States. United by acquiring Public Service Co. of New Mexico through a subsidiary.
Balderas has supported the proposed merger, Nanasi said, after her own expert witnesses criticized it.
Balderas in a statement denied any allegations of favoritism or conflict of interest. Raël said his company adheres to the state’s rules of professional conduct.
Since taking office in 2015, Balderas has hired Rael or others in his firm to help represent the state in at least 19 cases, at least triple the number of cases assigned to any other firm. private attorneys, according to a Searchlight study. New Mexico.
Attorney General’s office invoices and contracts obtained by New Energy Economy show more than $ 3 million in direct fee and expense payments to the Robles, Rael & Anaya law firm.