De Baca conflict could settle out of court

By Mike Linn: CNJ News Editor

A district judge on Thursday advised lawyers for the De Baca County sheriff and the county commission to try to resolve issues related to an extended feud between the two outside of court.

Ninth Judicial District Judge Teddy Hartley also overruled an ex-parte order signed by District Judge Joe Parker two weeks ago. The order would have forced the De Baca County Commission to restore Sheriff Gary Graves’ county cell phone and reissue credit cards used to buy gasoline out of the Fort Sumner area.

Hartley said since he is the judge overhearing the case the order was not supposed to come from Parker.

Randall Harris, the attorney for Graves and the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association, asked Parker to sign the order because Hartley was out of town the week of June 15.

Graves and members of the De Baca County Commission said Thursday they would like to resolve the issues out of court.

“I believe we can probably come to a working solution,” Graves said after the 30-minute court hearing.

De Baca County Commission Chairman Powhatten Carter said after the hearing he would like to resolve the issues with Graves at a public meeting.

Graves said he is not opposed to meeting in public, but said if negotiations come to an impasse attorneys may be necessary.

The dispute between Sheriff Graves and the commission dates back to last year. Earlier this year, Graves locked the doors and barred after-hours access by personnel from other departments saying he needed to maintain the security of his department’s records. At one point, Graves spent nights in his office and even brought in a bed in effort to secure records.

The sheriff then sued to force the county to provide what Graves believes are mandatory office facilities. The county counter-sued to force the sheriff to grant access to the office, including the fire alarm control panel.

Curry County Sheriff Roger Hatcher, president of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association that helped Graves file the lawsuit, said Thursday he may not agree with all of the 18 points filed in the motion. However, he said the sheriff shouldn’t be required to pay for his own gas and get reimbursed at a later date.

“That’s totally unacceptable,” Hatcher said. “My guys would not take a trip if they had to pay for the fuel out of their own pocket and wait to get reimbursed.”

De Baca County Clerk Nancy Sparks said all county employees are asked to buy gas on out-of-town trips, but they get reimbursed within a day or two.

She said the De Baca County Commission will review the 18 requests filed in Graves’ motion later this month.