Sunday, September 14, 2014

County Treasurer Davd Gutierrez Must Resign

Although I was tempted to write this week about the Las Cruces City Council's strange conduct Monday, it's also important to discuss the situation of our elected County Treasurer, David Gutierrez.

The facts seem simple: Gutierrez has admitted he solicited sex from a female employee while they were in a car traveling on county business. He admitted he'd said what he'd said and that he'd meant it. (That's to his credit – unless the lady was wearing a wire.)

There's also significant evidence that this was no one-time error in judgment. His alleged harassment of the same victim was reported in January to HR Director Deborah Weir and County Counsel John Caldwell. I didn't see the evidence, don't know what investigating they did, and can't judge them. One employee said, “she wouldn't have had to go through this if they'd done their jobs.” (On the other hand, maybe they did, somewhat slowly, and this was the result.)

Gutierrez must resign. He's an embarrassment to the County and himself, and to his party, community, and family.

We must force him to resign. While he may wish to keep receiving a handsome salary from us, remaining in his position could cost him heavily in fees fighting a possible recall effort and perhaps criminal charges.

A crime? I'm no criminal law specialist, but solicitation of sex-for-money is a crime in most states. Where he's already admitted it, the facts should be easy to prove, but a quick look at New Mexico statutes leaves me doubtful that those facts fall within the specific language of relevant statutes. (For example, “criminal solicitation” must be solicitation of a felony; and one sub-paragraph of the law on “promoting prostitution” looks as if it would apply only if she'd taken his suggestion.)

Democrats should get off our tails and actively encourage him to retire, even if the sitting governor gets to appoint his replacement. This transcends politics. (Although his conduct had nothing to do with his party affiliation, he happens to be a Democrat.)

I attended the annual Labor Day Breakfast about honoring labor, and heard all folks said there about honoring labor, as Democrats have traditionally done. Here, a man abused his power at the expense of workers he supervised.

I called to invite Mr. Gutierrez to tell me of any extenuating circumstances. I received a long email saying the public accounts were “not contextually thorough” and asked that people forgo quick judgments and extend “compassion and forgiveness.” He didn't offer to fill me in on the context, but said the incident wouldn't affect his job performance.

Gutierrez, as an elected county official, is automatically on the Democratic Central Committee. I believe County Democrats should formally consider (1) terminating his Central Committee membership and (2) censuring him and urging him to resign. Democratic County Chairwoman Christy French has convened the Judicial Council to discuss these issues soon. Gutierrez will have the opportunity to explain his side of things.

New Mexico's Constitution directs that 200 valid signatures on a petition can get a grand jury called to look into an alleged crime or official misconduct. (So can a judge, if s/he deems it necessary.) If no officials plan to act, perhaps citizens should. (Recall is cumbersome, and costly to the public.) Somewhere along the way Mr. Gutierrez will likely realize that the longer he fights, the less he retains citizens' respect or affection.

He needs to resign. I suspect he also needs to seek treatment from a qualified professional sooner rather than later, and (unless he plans to leave the County) begin the painstaking task of rebuilding some hint of community trust and respect for him.

The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 14 September, 2014

The column mentions recall.
Under New Mexico law, to recall him takes signatures equal to 1/3 the number of votes cast in November 2012, when he was re-elected. Unfortunately, that was a Presidential Election year, with a larger turnout than most years.  The people could surely do so, but at significant effort, and the resulting special election could prove costly.  Thus it should be undertaken only as a last resort.

County Democratic Party:
On 10 September, Ms. French wrote to the Judicial Council, the appropriate body to hear the case, petitioning it to meet soon concerning Mr. Gutierrez.  In part, she wrote:
Understand that I do not bring this petition lightly, but under the circumstances, I feel it is the right thing to do and it is necessary for the Democratic Party of Dona Ana County to show the voting public that we do not condone this type of behavior.  In addition to removing Mr. Gutierrez as an officer from the County Central Committee, I am asking the Judicial Council to formally censure Mr. Gutierrez and ask that he resign his office.

Did County Officials Hear about the Problem Earlier?
I've been told "Yes, definitely", first-hand, by someone who says it was discussed at a meeting within the County's HR Department -- and that HR Director Deb Weir voiced an intention to discuss the matter with County Attorney John Caldwell.
The County says "No, definitely."  It took me a while to get a comment, but the comment (after deadline for the column) was a definite "No", that no one reported to HR back in January that there was a problem with  Mr. Gutierrez's conduct toward women, or toward this particular woman.  
A couple of people had criticized Weir and Caldwell for inaction.  I wondered if maybe they'd taken some action, or at least investigated, but apparently not.

Seeking Comment from Mr. Gutierrez:
The column mentions my invitation to Mr. Gutierrez to comment.  I phoned and left him a message.  He responded by email, from which the column quotes.  It seems fair and appropriate to publish the full email, though it wouldn't have fit in the column.   Below are the email I received and my reply.  So far, I've heard nothing further.
(Of course, Mr. Gutierrez will also be invited to tell his story to the county Democratic Party -- and presumably could do so to the Las Cruces Sun-News or to KRWG-TV.)

David Gutierrez <>

Sep 8 (2 days ago)

to me
Mr. Goodman, I did receive your voicemail message, and I appreciate that you are reaching out to me for my side of the story. As you can well imagine this is a difficult and painful time for me and my family. After 18 years of dedicated public service in various roles for both Mesilla and Dona Ana County, my reputation has suddenly been pinned on a conversation that lasted less than two minutes. The picture painted by the official investigative report and discussed publicly on Aug. 29 is not contextually thorough, and I believe it unfairly portrays me, my words and the aftermath of the original conversation. What happened is regrettable, but it does not affect my ability to act in the best interests of either my office, my fine staff or the taxpaying residents of Dona Ana County. I am hopeful that all those who would judge me based on that two minute window of time would show some compassion and forgiveness during this difficult time, realizing that none of us is perfect and those of us who live in the fish bowl of public service are scrutinized in ways most people cannot imagine. There is always more than meets the eye, which is very much true in this case. Thank you again for the opportunity to state my side of the issue.

David Gutierrez
Dona Ana County Treasurer
845 N. Motel Blvd.
Las Cruces, NM 88007

Peter Goodman <>

Sep 9 (1 day ago)

to David
Mr. Gutierrez -
Thanks for your reply, but it left me unclear: do you want to talk about your side of this, or extenuating circumstances, or leave the record where it lies?   If what we've heard may be inaccurate, I'd like to hear your view on that before I write a column or otherwise act.
I do wish to hear your side; but your email doesn't tell me your side, but just says you have one, which I'd figured was likely.  I do recognize that you've provided valuable service to the community; but public / political positions are what they are, and there are good reasons folks may not extend the kind of forgiveness/patience/compassion and avoidance of judgment that they/we would do with a private person acting as an individual.
Certainly my initial view of this, to be frank, is that you should resign, but that you deserve every kind of consideration, compassion, and assistance as an individual and one who's served the community for some time.   That's my initial view, based on what I know now..  I'm open to argument, or to learning new facts.
Please feel free to email or call me -- 521-0424 or (510) 282-6690.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

thoughts on a constitution

Antonin Scalia is the U.S. Supreme Court's most passionate proponent of “originalism.” He's used the concept to harm the country significantly during the past two decades.

“Originalism” says that in close Constitutional cases you look to what the Constitution's framers knew and wrote in the 18th Century.

Like most doctrines, the justices use it when it's convenient but ignore it when it's not.

The opposite view is that some pretty thoughtful men created a living constitution that could grow with our country.

I found a neat articulation of that in a nearly century-old article in the Catholic Charities Review.

The 1910's were progressive times. Woodrow Wilson had avoided some federal legislative proposals by arguing they were illegal or should be decided by the states; but by 1915, looking at the 1916 election and Theodore Roosevelt's return to the Republican Party, he loosened up a bit.

A new law prevented kids under 14 from being employed in industry or at night or longer than eight hours a day. With hazardous occupations, the minimum age was 16.

But was this constitutional? Weren't laws on working conditions a matter for the states? (Many states had enacted such laws, but some southern states hadn't.)

Article I, Section 8 empowered Congress to “regulate commerce among the several States.”
Therefore, as the Catholic Charities Review noted, “the new Federal law simply prohibits any establishment that employes children in conditions contrary to the standards set up in the law, from shipping its products in interstate commerce. . . . [T]he law seeks to abolish child labor by making it unprofitable.”

The writer called it “a nice constitutional question” and anticipated a court challenge. He conceded, “In the minds of the men who wrote the Constitution there was probably no intention of enabling Congress to exercise any such power as is contemplated by the law that we are considering.
Nevertheless, this would not be the first instance in which the language of the Constitution has been interpreted to mean more than the Fathers intended it to include.”

He added that with a Constitution so difficult to amend formally, such methods were essential. “Otherwise, our social and industrial life would be strangled by a Constitution that was made to fit the conditions of the eighteenth century.”

It's an ugly but unarguable fact that naked capitalism is pretty brutal. It's too eager to use up men, women, and children, then toss 'em on the slag heap when they can't work anymore, and its indifferent to our air, water, land, and climate.

Our founders were preoccupied with the evils they knew, such as monarchies. They never imagined industries huge enough to poison our world and international corporations more powerful than governments. Should we reject necessary reforms and humanitarian legislation based on their failure of imagination?

A fairer sort of originalism would ask, “What would Jefferson have done?” Ask not whether Jefferson intended to outlaw something he'd never seen. Ask whether the man who wrote that each of us had a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” would have wanted our Constitution used to let 13-year-old kids be worked 15 hours a day instead of going to school. Ask whether the man who sent Lewis & Clark to explore our beautiful country would have wanted us to let huge corporations destroy it because he hadn't conceived of them during his simpler times.

I understand the argument that this second sort of originalism is inherently subjective; but at bottom, so is Scalia's kind.

The current court's desire to strangle us with extremely narrow interpretations of our Constitution may exemplify why Jefferson suggested there ought to be a revolution every ten or twenty years.
 [The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 7 September 2014.]

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Farmers' Market, Las Cruces 23Aug2014

I'm a regular at the Saturday morning Famers' Market in Las Cruces.

Addicted to it, you might say: not only to the fresh bread and vegetables and fruits we enjoy for the week between markets; and not only to local food, to fresh food that didn't waste a bunch of petroleum getting itself here, to buying from trusted friends instead of faceless corporations, to having some clue what's in the food I'm eating; but also to the friendship of vendors and fellow shoppers, old friends and new, great conversations, and a ready supply of enjoyable images to feed my camera.

I keep meaning to post a few of those images each Saturday afternoon, but rarely manage it.  These, at least, I did get ready, and would have posted Sunday except that Sunday was for my column from the Sun-News.

Note: I shoot street photographs in public places.  If anyone sees himself or herself in one of 'em, and wants a copy, s/he should email me and let me know, and I'll email one back.  Equally, if you see yourself or your spouse or your did or your dog up here and would prefer I delete the image, let me know -- by email or with a comment on the blog -- and I'll delete it immediately.

These are from Saturday, 23 August:

Man on Truck I

Man on Truck II

A Family Saturday

Music Lover

Man Photographing Musician

Girl with Puppy

Questions about public funding to run a non-existent law enforcement academy

In 2011 Doña Ana Community College, which teaches some law enforcement classes, wanted to start a law enforcement academy (LEA).

DASO and LCPD already had academies. Neither wanted to throw in with DACC. DACC rep Richard DeRouen made a presentation to the accrediting agency, but the agency wasn't encouraging and hasn't done anything since to accredit the non-existent LEA.

Nevertheless, DACC got the feds to shell out $156,468 for the 2012-2013 academic year for salaries, uniforms, and a fancy shooting simulator.

DACC listed LEA classes in an online catalog, despite having no such academy, then reportedly told students who applied that the classes were canceled.

DACC spent the money and got another $134,183 for 2013-2014. DeRouen received more than $80K for one year's salary and benefits out of the grants. I asked a DACC rep what DeRouen was actually doing for the LEA then, but he didn't know. There's still no LEA. (For this year DACC sought just $3,250 for replacement ammo for the shooting simulator, used in a self-defense class.)

People within DACC had questions; but one employee who asked them of DeRouen reported he got angry. One instructor was heard asking DeRouen, when the initial money came in, whether the deal was all right. DeRouen assured him it was. In August 2012 a DACC employee wrote DACC Prexy Margie Huerta a letter suggesting DACC had put the cart before the horse by obtaining and spending funds before creating the institution the funds were to help run. Before leaving for another job, the employee also warned Andy Burke that he'd get in trouble over this stuff. Burke reportedly indicated he didn't want to know.

Sadly, all this compounds lingering questions about DACC based on Huerta's scandalous handling of the Nursing Program accreditation loss. (The bulk of the activity in both programs preceded both Garrey Carruthers's NSMU Presidency and the tenure of DACC President Renay Scott.)

Did DACC tell the State it didn't have an LEA teaching classes? If so, when? Should money have been returned? Were the class listings misleading? Was all this on the up-and-up, or did DACC defraud the government? (The funds were federal grants administered by the New Mexico Department of Education.)

DACC won't say. DeRouen told me he “wasn't comfortable” talking about this matter. He referred me to a Public Information Officer who didn't know a lot and refused to let me speak with DeRouen.

DACC's applications boasted an Advisory Council “meeting twice a year to ensure that the program continues to meet student educational needs.” The phrase, “the program continues to meet student needs,” suggests a program that exists. If it didn't exist, how could it continue or meet student needs?
DACC listed as Council members a who's who of law enforcement; but several named members recalled no such meetings; and although NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez confirmed attending meetings, he conceded other agencies were less regular in attendance.

DACC said the LEA would get accredited. That hasn't happened. It's not on the agenda for the next meeting. A key factor appears to be strong inter-agency support, which is highly unlikely.

Sheriff Todd Garrison told me DASO wouldn't actively oppose the proposal, but isn't supporting it. LCPD Chief Jaime Montoya said he'd told DACC representatives “we do not want to go that route.” Another law enforcement official described “absolutely no interest in having DACC train DASO officers. (There are cogent reasons, which I'll post on my blog.)

At least current online listings now warn that “Accreditation is Pending”; but where accreditation is highly unlikely, even that could be a little misleading, though literally true.
Maybe these questions have easy answers; but if so, why didn't DeRouen offer any?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 31 August.  It wasn't easy to write.  Some public documents raised interesting questions; but the key figure at DACC wouldn't talk with me wasn't "comfortable" talking with me about them, and questions raised by DACC critics sometimes seemed as if they might go too far.
Below, I want to amplify what the column said on a couple of points.]

[A key issue is that throughout this odd story, it probably should have been fairly obvious that accreditation for the proposed law enforcement academy was, at best, a long-shot.  That's partly because a key issue for the accrediting agency appeared to be need: was there inter-agency support for this, did local law enforcement entities want to join in the project or would they hire cadets from the DACC law enforcement academy?"
The answer was a resounding "No!" although gussied up a bit for courtesy's sake.   I talked to some very experienced law enforcement officers and trainers and they gave some pretty good reasons for their positions.  It was clearly not merely a matter of "turf."
First of all, and meaning no insult to DACC's law enforcement instructors, DASO and LCPD each have an academy.  There are good reasons to keep running those and hire graduates from them.
1. When you train cadets you gain an extraordinary amount of insight into those cadets.  Who learns more quickly or more slowly?  Which cadet finds which areas easy and which areas difficult? The insights gleaned from training the men could inform assignments and conceivably even save lives.
2. I was repeatedly told that the (proposed) DACC Law Enforcement Academy would be more "academic." 
3. Institutions training cadets include in the program a lot of policy points and other information specific to the institution that's doing the training and will do most of the hiring.  That doesn't hurt a DASO Academy cadet who later goes to Farmington or NMSU; but a new DASO officer who had trained elsewhere would have missed that material, and might need extra time to ingest it.
Since these points were articulated to the DACC folks, and since those folks went ahead and procured (and spent) funds for their project, one wonders why.  They had to know accreditation was highly unlikely.  Why did they proceed?  Ambition, I'm guessing; but if that spilled over into misleading students and/or the government, it doesn't seem appropriate.]

[Another point worth touching on is DACC's response to questioning.  DeRouen spoke with me briefly, but soon announced he was "uncomfortable" talking with me and referred me to a Public Information Officer.   The PIO was courteous, but when he learned the subject of my interest he said he wanted to check with DeRouen and get back to me.  He did, the next day, saying DeRouen didn't want to talk with me.  He offered to take my questions and obtain answers.  I initially rejected that, because I was pretty sure he wouldn't know the answers -- and if he brought back a non-responsive or incomplete answer from DeRouen, I'd be waiting a while for an answer to a follow-up question.  Then I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I called back and asked him several pertinent questions.  Mostly he didn't know the answers.  In one case he answered, but I'm pretty sure he was (unintentionally) wrong.   I reiterated that I could talk with DeRouen with the PIO on the line; but he never called back to accept that suggestion or answer any of the questions I'd already asked him.
I  have a hard job understanding that.  Always seems to me that folks are usually better off giving their best explanations and answers. (That's not necessarily true when one is being investigated by law enforcement, which may be the case here.  I'd heard so, but didn't include it in the column because I wasn't certain it was accurate.)

The PIO insisted DeRouen was upset because I'd accused him of defrauding the government.  I hadn't.  Rather, that was the question I was trying to answer: I'd seen documents that could be read that way, and were being read that way, and wanted to see whether there was a better way to read them or some additional information that would show there was nothing at all off-key about this. 

Maybe there's some easy explanation.  If so, I'd have appreciated hearing it, and perhaps writing about something more fun this week.]


Sunday, August 24, 2014

In Hembrillo Canyon

We spent last Saturday in Hembrillo Canyon, which really should be Hembrilla Canyon.

Mostly you can't get there, because it's within White Sands Missile Range. We learned, among other things, that 59% of the gypsum that gives White Sands National Monument its name is actually within WSMR, and just 37% in the Monument. We were duly instructed not to photograph any structures and also not to step on, kick, or pick up unexploded ordinance.

We went with the Native Plant Society, on an outing led by a fellow with one of the world's great jobs: Dave Anderson, WSMR's gardener. As WSMR's Land Manager, he gets to wander at will some very fine country that is exceptionally uncrowded. He was a fun and knowledgeable guide.

We visited the Range's northernmost population of Night-Blooming Cereus. Easily overlooked, this cactus has a very nice flower it deigns to show off only at night – and only on one night each year. Fellow Doña Ana Photography Club member Lisa Mandelkorn – who not only photographs flowers beautifully but takes the time to know what they are – has witnessed cereus flowering. 

They're rare. There were only two previously tagged cereus in this “population.” Dave gave us a few minutes to wander around, and before we left there were three. They look about like an old stick someone discarded in the middle of a creosote bush.
Creosote is said to kill other plants; but some cacti like to grow beneath creosote. I'm not entirely sure whether the creosote as plant-murderer story is a myth or a truth with exceptions. 
We wound our way up into the Canyon, seeing little evidence that it had shared much in the recent rains.

We ate lunch in a cottonwood grove that had been used for centuries. And decorated by centuries of visitors: it boasted both pictographs and petroglyphs. Mescalero Apache elders had identified the pictographs, but weren't too sure what earlier folks had left the petroglyphs.

We saw no great quantity of either; but what we saw were different from what I'd seen elsewhere; and the site's silence and solitude enhanced its appeal. 

Other wonders we ran across included ancient agave roasting pits, some neat cactus, mystery agaves, and a sotol with a wren's golden nest protruding from its golden stalk. In addition, some of our stops to gawk at plants also yielded views of Lake Lucero and the white sands far below us, with black mountains looming in the background.

Our travels also took us to the battlefield where Victorio, determined not to be moved, held off the buffalo riders with a much smaller force.

It wasn't a long walk, but I turned back, guessing my week-old new hip might object to the climb. While Dave regaled the others with tales of tricks, triumph, and treasure, I sat in my truck doing the sudoku and enjoying a light rain.

Soon we reached the fabled Victorio's Peak and turned back, without getting out our shovels.
Within minutes thunderclaps were following the lightning strikes as closely as an NFL defensive back covering a wide-receiver. We abandoned photography and just drove. Fast. 
The dry dirt road quickly became a raging river, making it a race to get to pavement while we still could. The waters were high enough that we got our feet wet -- in the truck. 
A classic end to a New Mexico outing. As we headed for the exit from the Range, an oryx with two young-uns stood by the side of the road watching us curiously, but raced off into the hills after we stopped to return their stares.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 24 August in the Las Cruces Sun-News, though without the images.]

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Developments with Subjects of Past Columns

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Unfortunately, that's true of many subjects these Sunday columns have touched on.

I wrote in January that Governor Martinez, like NJ Governor Christie, tended to “maintain a personal vindictiveness that doesn't fade as they move up the political ladder.” And “Mark D'Antonio's presence in her old office is like an itch she can't keep from scratching.”

She continues to illustrate my point. Shortly before Independence Day a visitor remarked to D.A. Mark D'Antonio that D'Antonio's office had a great view of the Field of Dreams. A plan emerged to gather there with their families to watch the fireworks.

One evening soon afterward, Doña Ana County Commissioner Dr. David Garcia got a call at home. “Is this Dr. Garcia?” “Yes.” “Is this Commissioner Garcia?” “Yes.” Finally the woman identified herself as “your Governor.” Guv told Garcia of D'Antonio's party plan. He wondered what she wanted him do do. “Shut it down.” “But it's his office.”

Dr. G. obligingly contacted the County Manager, who issued some edict against booze in county offices. (Did the Guv always keep that office alcohol free?) Also no shooting of fireworks from the county building's roof.

Does it get any pettier than trying to prevent a fireworks-watching-party in her former office? Even if D'Antonio had been planning to serve booze, is this what oughtta be keeping our Guv up at night?

In May I wrote that we pay appallingly inadequate compensation to contract public defenders. Constitutionally, the State owes indigents a defense to criminal charges; but at current rates, a contract lawyer must either short-change his client significantly or work many unpaid hours to give that client a defense remotely equal to what a paying client would receive.

What sparked the column was lawyer Gary Mitchell's motion, filed in several criminal cases, demanding the State put up or shut up: since the Constitution says you gotta pay me to defend the accused, either do so or drop your case against him.

Sounded fair. I called Mr. Mitchell Monday to ask whether any court had yet ruled on such a motion. None had. (Judges rule at their own pace.) “Hopefully, we can get a ruling pretty quick,” Mr. Mitchell said.

In 2013 we questioned the mindless rush to spend a bunch of money putting artificial turf on the Field of Dreams. Proponents claimed you could use it for many events; but you can't – unless you cover it with an expensive wooden platform to protect it from spilled drinks and high heels, etc. Sure enough, first big concert – no one could sit on the field, and many had to be unreasonably far from the stage.

Two columns earlier this year concerned the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District bond election, which failed 500-2,859. That's the result I favored; but I wrote that those of us concerned about soil and water conservation shouldn't just nod off and leave this group to spend their time opposing conservation and preservation measures, most of which have little to do with their charge. Concern about local flooding deserves serious attention.

Mea culpa. I just haven't taken the time I'd intended on this. But in writing this column I saw the group was to meet Thursday, August 14, and I resolved to attend.
Quite recently, I wrote of rattlesnakes. A few days later, taking care of a neighbor's place, the wife reached for something near a Russian Sage. Curled under the bush lay a rattler. He lazily stuck out his tongue at her. She thanked him for his serenity and gave him a wide berth thereafter.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 17 August.]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Was School Too Hasty in Firing Jesus Solis

Last week's column discussed the Jesus Solis case, in which a popular teacher was accused of touching children sexually and was indicted on 52 felony counts. When those counts evaporated, he essentially pled guilty to hugging kids.

Police and prosecutors eventually reached the right result. No sex crime.
Meanwhile, Solis was fired by the school board.

School board members are non-lawyers. Some were teachers. They want to do the right thing.

Solis's termination hearing was run largely by their legal counsel, who also drew up the notice of firing. It's not illegal for him to perform dual roles; but was it wise? He wasn't required to follow the rules of evidence, and he didn't.

So what was the testimony?

No child testified Solis did anything sexual. No one testified to seeing him do such a thing.
(Superintendent Stan Rounds, who had a second school-hired lawyer as prosecutor, probably could have brought in the little girl or girls allegedly involved. He didn't. Solis's lawyer had apparently made a “gentleman's agreement” with the D.A. not to subpoena the girls without the D.A.'s permission, and he was having trouble reaching the D.A. The school's lawyers refused to give him more time. Months after the alleged event, what was the sudden urgency? Could it have been that the school's lawyers feared the charges would be exposed as hokum? When prosecutors, looking to convict Solis, questioned the first girl and two others who initially supported her, there was nothing there!)

School principal and counselor testified that one day as they finished questioning a girl about alleged lesbian activities or improper conversations on the subject, and the girl knew she was in trouble, she suddenly, out of nowhere, claimed that Mr. Solis, her teacher the previous year, had touched her inappropriately.

Principal and counselor testified they did not particularly believe or disbelieve the alleged victim.

Two teachers who'd taught the girl testified she had a bigger problem with lying than most kids. Witnesses said two other girls felt so strongly that the alleged victim was lying that they went to the principal.

Both sides agreed that at least two dozen witnesses would have testified in favor of Solis.

The prosecution had the burden of proof (though just a preponderance of evidence, not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard). So what did the prosecution present?

Rounds and an HR guy testified they believed the little girl. Neither man had talked to her.
Rounds testified that if the girl recanted, he'd still fire Solis.
Rounds waffled about whether he'd consulted the principal and what she'd said. He testified that the principal's opinion often contributed to such a decision, and he implied that this principal had supported firing Solis. In fact, she didn't, as she testified under oath.

Rounds testified he acted once Solis got indicted. (An indictment describes the charges but isn't actual evidence. Guilt or innocence gets determined in the criminal proceedings that follow the indictment.)

Rounds and the school's lawyer had padded the termination letter with a bunch of other charges that sound minor. Rounds testified these charges alone were enough to fire Solis. But if that's true, why didn't Rounds do it months ago, and save us some money?

The evidence against Solis was hearsay. Unconvincing hearsay, in my view. The school declined to comment, given an imminent appeal and possible litigation.

There's a lot the board didn't hear in the hearing. Here's hoping the board members take a more active role in deciding the appeal. Rubber-stamping a questionable decision could prove costly.

Mr. Solis, his students, and the taxpayers deserve a fair and reasoned decision.
[The column above -- Part II of II -- appeared today, Sunday, 10 August in the Las Cruces Sun-News.  Part  I, which ran in the paper a week ago sub nom A Conscientious Teacher Put Through Hell, is available at A Sad Story - Part I or by just paging down past these italicized comments below.]
[I mention in the column that the school district authorities declined to talk to me, because Mr. Solis's appeal hearing is coming up soon and because there could also be litigation of some sort.  I mention that to explain why the school's point-of-view isn't set forth in the column, and certainly not to criticize that silenceWith what I've had available, I've tried to write a fair and accurate account -- and, obviously, I think I've managed that.]
[I can only reiterate that the deeper problem -- how to ensure that we give a huge and empathetic ear to the least hint of sexual molestation of kids while avoiding unnecessarily ruining lives of beloved teachers or other adults who've done nothing of that sort -- remains important, subtle, and challenging.]