Taos: A time of Conflict and Litigation

By: Bill Whaley
15 January, 2011

Taosenos Waving Writs

A Boy Named Sue!

You could teach a course in the History of Violence with Taos as a focal point: Centuries of Indian Wars and Raids, Wars against the Indigenous Population by the Spaniard (pre 1800s) and American (post 1800) occupiers, the Mexican War and the forces of Manifest Destiny (1846-48) and include the Gov. Bent Massacre and subsequent hanging of Taos Pueblo Natives by American troops. The Civil War (1860s) focused attention on a common foe–warlike neighbors from the Southern Confederacy.

Eventually, a gradual cessation of violent hostilities occurred in New Mexico as the frontier closed and civil society of a sort gained ascendance, when the territory became a state in 1912. Even with statehood, private quarrels, centered around land grants or water rights, continued. Conflicts were settled, sometimes in the courts and sometimes in the courtyards. Crimes of passion among private parties as always unleashed spontaneous violence among family members and neighbors. As the political state gained stability, the courts and ballot box became the preferred way to make decisions during the last century.

Today, rather than shoot or mug strangers, Hippies, say, the physical violence is frequently turned against friends and family members, or sublimated and turned into legal arguments in the courts or among regulatory bodies. In the Justice System, some would say the rule of law is interpreted, according to political and personal preferences rather than according to principles of justice. But the further you are from Taos, the Mercado of personal grievances, the more likely you are to gain an impersonal and impartial verdict.

Taosenos, like the Hebrews referred to in the Book of Moses, are, as you might say affectionately, a stubborn or “stiff-necked” people. Newcomer utopians are always surprised or discouraged by the conflict and lack of consensus among elected and appointed officials. Native newcomers, the ones, who are born here but left for purposes of education or work in the mainstream world before returning are generally surprised by the extant ancient, medieval, and modern worlds that exist side by side with contemporary society. But New Mexico has only been a state for 100 years and the first Territorial Gov., Lew Wallace, proved a prophet when he said, “All calculations based on experience elsewhere fail in New Mexico.”

Below, we list a few examples of current policy tussles and the potential for more substantial litigation due to local disagreements. Oh, and sometimes Taosenos settle lawsuits and get millions of dollars or hundreds of acres back from the American government: Blue Lake, Taos Pueblo Settlement—Abeyta water rights claims (worth over $100 million).

In other words, nobody’s afraid of a fight whether in court, at the Roundhouse, or in the U.S. Halls of Congress and the Whitehouse. Watchalo.

Town of Taos

Less than a year ago, the Taos Mayor and his sidekick were calling on the state leaders to remove the school board due to alleged dissension and conflict with school administrators. Now, the paradigm of consensus, the Town Council and Town Hall, are torn by dissension in the current Mayor v. Manager fight—each side presenting arguments to competing media.

Meanwhile, the Journal North reports on yet another torts claim (preliminary to a lawsuit) being filed against the Taos PD because a cop broke an allegedly drunken woman’s arms during an arrest. Earlier, attorneys filed against the town for Tasing a facedown handcuffed and allegedly inebriated woman on the ground. The Taser cop apparently got into a domestic spat with his wife and is in a pre-prosecution diversion program. The Cop who broke the arm of the other woman allegedly busted the head, allegedly, earlier of another woman, during a famous New Years’ bout at a local cantina—when the handcuffed woman tried to escape.

Recently, the PD Chief, aka “Superman,” left his car unlocked at his subsidized residence in the affordable housing tract. His weapons were stolen and allegedly fenced to alleged drug dealers, allegedly, in the same complex. The affordable housing development is being investigated for violating a myriad of state ordinances and we’re not sure where lawsuits and potential criminal prosecutions stand in regard to the Chamisa Verde crime scene. But there ought to be some yellow police tape marking off the neighborhood.

We think the Mayor and Manager ought to stay away from the schools, get out of the boxing ring, and pay attention to their own house, including the increasingly thin blue line.

Don’t forget the Spring Ditch parcientes have filed a lawsuit and are waiting, waiting like Godot for the Town to crack in regard to its 1808 claims. And the County, too, has filed a lawsuit against the Town, waiting for the municipality to lay out the paper trial re: annexation since 1934. Taosenos have long memories.

Taos Municipal Schools

Last week a federal judge issued a “partial ruling” in a complex and Byzantine lawsuit, involving a family fight at CRAB Hall among administrators and board members. The judge wrote in the last paragraph:

“IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff
DeLong’s Complaint [Doc. 13], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Livingston’s Complaint [Doc. 14], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Collins’ Complaint [Doc. 15], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Chavez- Medina’s Complaint [Doc. 16], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Winter’s Complaint [Doc. 17], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Gallegos-Jaramillo’s Complaint [Doc. 18], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff McCann’s Complaint [Doc. 19], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Vigil’s Complaint [Doc. 20], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Martinez’s Complaint [Doc. 21], Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Garcia’s Complaint [Doc. 22], and Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Trujillo’s Complaint [Doc. 23] are all GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.”  (Editor’s bold.)

“Defendants’ Motion for a More Definite Statement [Doc. 24] is GRANTED. Plaintiffs are granted 30 days to file an amended Complaint to address any deficiencies identified in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.”

The Judge’s order was dated 11 January, 2011.

Of course, there are other lawsuits and EEOC complaints being filed. One lawsuit includes issues of basketball and whether or not St Jude is an appropriate helpmate for the coach and players. An EEOC complaint does not quite go back to the Civil War but involves the termination of an African American Woman, Age Discrimination, and other possible claims. There are ongoing Office of Civil Rights investigations being conducted of the Special Needs program and the Nutrition program’s hiring and termination practices. Potential criminal prosecutions involving disappearing records at the finance department and disappeared inventory—art, equipment, office and vocational supplies are in the offing.

Now come school board elections. Voters have a real choice among the serious and politically tone-deaf factions.

Experienced candidates include Jake Caldwell (County Attorney, Interim County Mgr.) Gene Sanchez (Town Councilor, Citizens Oversight Committee, budget maven and board attendee), incumbent Enrico Velasquez (Retired officer USMC and curriculum expert).

A Fresh Faced team includes the THS Class of ’92: Jake Caldwell (County Attorney, Interim County Mgr.), David Chavez (PhD Harvard, UNM science teacher), and Zach Cordova (former THS football player).

A Third but weaker group, endorsed by two or three remnants of the once viable “Yes for Kids,”  faction, includes Jason Silva (stage fright), former Mayor Fred Peralta (Swimming Pool Scandal, and suspicious former Richardson official), and Zach Cordova (former THS football player).

Two twenty-somethings, Isaiah Pacheco and Ms. Neomi Martinez are also in the mix.

We’re not sure who has the answer to decreasing enrollment, rising administrative salaries, declining graduation rates and the failure to make AYP. But the district sure needs an attorney and someone interested in curriculum and finance. But that’s only the way some think. You can mix and match, depending on family affiliation, the stars, and karma or personal grievance.

Taos County

Last year, a commissioner told me that Taos County’s risk management team said the County was something like 200% over the average in NM when it comes to risk management paid out claims, mostly jail related, during the last decade. The County is, reportedly, involved in fighting a civil lawsuit by property owners who say the County allowed the self-proclaimed “Outlaw Garage” to violate county land-use regs and put in a body shop on residential property.

Now, the Commissioners have rejected a request by an “outsider” aka investor and architect who has renovated Old Martinez Hall and sought a “beer and wine” license for a restaurant operation. According to reports, the county rejected the license because the St. Francis de Asis, the most oft painted building in North America, was, arguably within 300 feet of the proposed restaurant and historic dance hall on the other side of a major highway.

Que Pasa?

The commissioners may have been trying to avoid a potential family and neighborly feud in Ranchos de Taos by rejecting the application. Or maybe they felt sorry for La Martina and didn’t want the potential operator to lose more money. (See Lew Wallace above.) On the other hand, she was, allegedly encouraged to move ahead by the Taos County Planning Department thereby acquiring a “vested interest.” Now La Martina can abandon the project or seek relief from the state alcoholic and beverage control department.

Or she might file a lawsuit against the County for discriminatory practices. What does, say, ten million dollars matter in comparison to keeping the peace or observing the wishes of some voters who don’t want no stinkin’ gavachos on their peaceful bucolic Plaza?

The Commissioners may soon be reduced to their Briefs.

KCE Coop

The Coop will have spent an estimated $150,000 for expert accountants, public relations, attorneys, and trustee compensation to gain permission from the PRC for the requested rate increase by the end of the month. While the Coopsters say they are trying to keep the KCEC solvent, naysayers and activists, alarmed by the debt-driven cross-subsidization of Propane, Internet, and Command Center, say the board needs a “plan” for curtailing expenses—redistricting, reduction in the number of trustees, lower management fees, and liquidation of losing operations. Plus the activists are organizing to present members with bylaw changes at the annual meeting and they may file a recall against the Naughty Nine trustees.

The Coop has announced plans to take on another $19 million in Broadband debt to match a government grant, bringing the total Coop debt to an estimated $80 million. Activists and member have filed 317 protests in this classic David v. Goliath battle. Soon a hearing officer will be appointed and the rate hearings are expected to last months at least until the annual meeting.

The members represent themselves “pro se” against the experts and attorneys hired by the Coop. It has cost them nada but their time and gas money. How great is that?


Taosenos would rather litigate than mediate. Basically, the taxpayers pay for both the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ and the defendants’ attorneys’ claims in these cases. Such is life in El Norte.  Hear, hear Lew Wallace. Pobrecita La Martina,  Pobrecito El Weston, and Pobrecito El Rey Luis might begin to understand Los Nortenos after they have lived here long enough. But maybe not.

It ain’t about Chicanos “Born in East L.A.” Check out the Dark Side of “The Milagro Beanfield War.” Then we’ll talk about the rest of the story.

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