ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) – An attorney representing an international energy company involved in a utility merger in New Mexico has been disqualified due to an alleged conflict of interest arising from ongoing contracts with the Attorney General’s office of the state.
An examiner for the state’s Public Regulatory Commission hearing issued the order on Friday, saying Marcus Rael Jr. could no longer represent Iberdrola in the utilities case.
The order noted that the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled that a challenge based on a conflict of interest claim should take place before any substantive hearing begins.
Hearings begin Monday on the proposed multibillion-dollar merger between New Mexico’s Public Service Co., the state’s largest electricity supplier, and Avangrid, a U.S. subsidiary of Spain’s Iberdrola.
Watch groups had filed complaints in July with the State Auditor, the State Ethics Commission and the New Mexico Supreme Court Disciplinary Board who highlighted Attorney General Hector Balderas’ relationship with the law firm where works Raël. They alleged that Rael 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.
Rael said on Friday that he did not believe there was a conflict but that he would honor the order. He said he joined the Avangrid and Iberdrola team because he believed the merger was in the best interests of New Mexicans and he was proud of the work he did.
“I look forward to the merger being completed so that New Mexico meets its renewable energy goals,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “New Mexico is poised to be a leader in renewable energy, and with AVANGRID / Iberdrola, we’ve made sure we’re getting there.
In documents filed with the public services commission, the attorney general’s office and Iberdrola denied the existence of any conflict.
Matt Baca, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, suggested that the allegations about a conflict were a “show” and that the case should be examined on the merits.
The hearing examiner noted in the order that the matter is of public interest. This will affect more than half a million customers and the New Mexico economy as a whole, as it will likely change the way electricity is generated and delivered in the state.
Some critics have said that a proposed settlement agreement between Avangrid and PNM Resources – the parent company of New Mexico’s Public Service Co. – does not go far enough in terms of customer benefits or funds to support the economic development of the state.
PNM and Avangrid recently announced further concessions as their initial proposal failed to gain the necessary support. The latest proposal includes $ 65 million in rate credits for customers, economic development grants of $ 15 million, and additional funding for energy efficiency assistance for low-income customers.
New Energy Economy executive director Mariel Nanasi was among those who raised concerns about the merger and Rael’s relationship with the attorney general’s office. Public records obtained by his group and a review by Searchlight New Mexico has shown that since taking office in 2015, Balderas has hired Raël or others in his cabinet to help represent the state in at least 19 cases, which is at least triple the number of cases assigned to n any other private law firm.
Invoices and contracts from the Attorney General’s office showed more than $ 3 million in direct payments of fees and expenses to the Robles, Rael & Anaya law firm.
The hearing examiner’s order also indicated a series of meetings between Rael and the attorney general’s office from late February to early April, as the attorney general prepared testimony that initially opposed the planned merger. .