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New Mexico AG wants state's anti-corruption law strengthened

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is calling on lawmakers to strengthen the state's anti-corruption law.

A recent ruling by the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of criminal charges against four defendants, and Balderas told the Albuquerque Journal that the court "took away from citizens a very necessary tool to prosecute public officials who use their public office for their own personal gain."

The case dealt with the dismissal of ethics charges against a series of former public officials, including a former Doña Ana County treasurer, an ex-district attorney and a former taxation and revenue official.

The Journal reported that the state Supreme Court's unanimous opinion centered on the enforcement of three provisions in the Governmental Conduct Act — subsections that direct officials to treat their positions as a public trust, conduct themselves in a way that justifies the confidence placed in them by the people and disclose conflicts of interest.

The high court ruled the sections were never intended by legislators to be enforced as criminal statutes and the language doesn't "spell out what act or omission is required for its violation and does not establish criminal elements that could inform clear jury instructions."

The state Legislature is set to open a 60-day session in January when lawmakers may take up legislation revising ethics laws and other statutes, according to the Journal.

Balderas, a Democrat whose term ends this year, told the newspaper that he's urging lawmakers to work with the ethics agency to "strengthen these laws in order to build public trust with our community which has grown skeptical and tired of corruption."