Former Republican young-gun district attorney Matt Chandler was shot down by the State Senate today. Senators rejected Governor Martinez’s nomination of Chandler to the Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico after nearly a week of back and forth drama between Chandler and Democrats on the Senate’s Rules Committee.
Chandler’s confirmation was unique in that he was rejected, and Republicans were quick to claim that his political involvement was the motive. But other much more high-profile, and equally well-connected Republicans have been confirmed by the Senate, including Hanna Skandera who is closely tied to Jeb Bush, and numerous members of the Martinez campaign and transition teams.
Chandler left his district attorney post abruptly in 2012 to “spend more time with his family,” and quickly began working as a political operative for a million-dollar Super PAC funded by Rep. Nate Gentry’s Republican Leadership PAC and, mostly, national big dollar Republican donors.
Chandler’s PAC came under fire for misleading ads against Democratic legislators, which Chandler distanced himself from during recent Senate confirmation hearings.
In the committee, Chandler distanced himself from the decision-making process in Advance New Mexico Now, saying that he only provided “financial compliance” for the PAC with the state. He apologized for a mailer sent out against Stephanie Garcia Richard which accused her of making a vote she never did. – NM Political Report
Republicans were quick to assign a political motive to the confirmation denial, but the political agenda they cited may not be the one which sunk Chandler.
Flashback to October of 2011 when Chandler was embroiled in a high-profile disagreement with the State Supreme Court over his prosecution of a Democratic judge in Governor Susana Martinez’s former judicial district. After running a campaign alleging corruption by former Gov. Richardson and his appointees, local Democratic judge Murphy found himself under investigation, and later arrested, for bribery for allegedly asking another judge to vote for him in a coming internal judicial vote for a chief judge position.
Martinez’s successor, Amy Orlando, hand-picked Clovis-area Republican DA Matt Chandler to prosecute the Democratic judge.
While District Attorney, Chandler was a staunch partisan Republican. In 2012, Chandler penned a letter attacking fellow Republican Pat Woods for supporting a Democrat in a previous state senate race. Chandler followed Governor Martinez’s political team, led by Jay McCleskey, in inserting themselves in that race. It backfired, causing Republicans to rally around Pat Woods, who became state senator.
Chandler got off to a good start by accusing, first in emails and then in court filings, the chief justice of the state’s supreme court, of improprieties. Chandler essentially alleged that the chief justice was putting in the fix to dismiss the case.
But court filings show that the Supreme Court had serious questions about Chandler’s agenda, and even found one of his fellow deputy prosecutors to admit that Chandler was making up conflict of interest allegations in order to “shop” for a Republican judge who would try the case with a bias towards convicting Democrats, instead of applying impartial justice.
In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, Chandler’s deputy wrote that, “Mr. Chandler told me that he had secretly recorded the conversation with Chief Justice Daniels,” and they later planned to get the assigned Democratic judge off of the case in hopes of getting a Republican judge appointed, even though they had no evidence that the assigned judge would act impartially.
Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels, writing his conclusion of Chandler’s motives after receiving Chandler’s sworn affidavit:
Chief Justice Daniels later goes on to recount how Chandler, as district attorney and special prosecutor of the Democratic judge, hid behind a large column outside a judicial meeting to listen in on a private conversation between the chief justice and his staff.
The entire filing, complete with transcripts, affidavits from Chandler’s own staff and emails, concludes that Chandler used his position to judge shop for a Republican judge who would find a Democrat guilty, regardless of the facts of the case.
It strongly implies that Chandler misrepresented facts and spied on the chief justice of the Supreme Court in order to create the appearance that the chief justice was politically biased and should be removed from the case because he would not allow Chandler to pursue a route for a Republican-led prosecution and judge against a Democrat, based on very weak charges.
News reports indicate that the judge Chandler pursued for felony corruption charges ultimately “pleaded no contest to misdemeanor misconduct, apologizing for what he said were injudicious comments but maintaining he was the innocent victim of a political witch hunt.”
Perhaps it was Chandler’s own political agenda which caught up with him in the New Mexico Senate today, not someone else’s.
Read the full filing from the Supreme Court: