Hearing officer OKs $500 settlement in ethics complaint against Dow

·2 min read

Jul. 21—A retired federal judge serving as a hearing officer for the State Ethics Commission expressed relief Wednesday an agreement had been reached to settle a long-running ethics complaint against state Rep. Rebecca Dow.

Karen Whitlock, Dow's Democratic opponent in the November 2020 House District 38 race, filed the complaint nearly two years ago.

"I want to congratulate counsel and Ms. Whitlock on reaching an agreement," the hearing officer, Alan Torgerson, said after signing off on the proposed settlement.

"This has been a very contentious case, and I was pleased to hear that you worked something out that's satisfactory to everybody," he said.

The proposed settlement now goes to the full Ethics Commission for approval.

Under the settlement, Dow, a Republican from Truth or Consequences, agreed to pay a $500 civil penalty for two violations of the Governmental Conduct Act that deal with legislators representing clients in front of state agencies. The law prohibits legislators from representing "another person in any matter before a state agency, unless without compensation or for the benefit of a constituent," although there are exceptions.

In Dow's case, the commission's general counsel, Walker Boyd, wrote in his investigative findings Dow was being paid by AppleTree Educational Center, a faith-based early childhood education provider she founded in 1999, while representing the nonprofit before numerous state agencies.

As part of the proposed settlement, Dow also agreed to drop a pending legal case before the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

Boyd called the settlement a "hard-fought agreement" that's in everyone's best interest and avoids "litigation uncertainty" and what he suspects would have been "significant litigation expense." He said the settlement also sets a precedent for enforcing sections of the Governmental Conduct Act, which governs the ethical and legal conduct of public officers and employees at all levels of government.

Torgerson noted Boyd had found probable cause Dow violated not just the Governmental Conduct Act but the Financial Disclosure Act. Boyd said Dow submitted an amendment to her financial disclosure forms, which "put a significant new bar on proof of those violations going forward."

Torgerson said he would prepare an order approving the settlement as quickly as he could.

Although her approval was not required, Whitlock said she had been consulted and agreed to the settlement.

"Mr. Boyd has spent a great deal of time explaining to me the terms of the settlement, and, yes, I'm fine with it," she said.

Wednesday's hearing was held virtually and lasted less than 17 minutes.

Dow did not attend the hearing. She planned to attend "but appears to be having technical difficulties," her attorney, Lucas Williams, said.

"I don't think we need to wait for her to proceed," he said.

"You know what the nature of the difficulties are?" Torgerson asked.

"The computer gods appear to not be smiling upon her, your honor," he responded.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.