by Ryan Lowery, Source New Mexico
September 6, 2022
A New Mexico District Court judge on Tuesday ordered the removal of Republican Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin from his elected position and barred him for life from serving in elected federal and state positions. This ruling marks the first time an elected official is set to be unseated by court order as a result of participating in or supporting the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Judge Francis J. Mathew wrote in his decision that Griffin’s attempts “to sanitize his actions are without merit” and that his characterization of his actions “amounted to nothing more than attempting to put lipstick on a pig.”
Mathew ruled that Griffin was disqualified from serving in public office under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment because Griffin had violated his oath to support the U.S. Constitution. The judge cited Griffin’s participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, along with “surrounding planning, mobilization and incitement.” Mathew also called those actions an “insurrection against the Constitution.”
The judge further ruled that because Griffin is constitutionally disqualified from holding federal and state offices, he must be removed as an Otero County commissioner “effective immediately.”
Griffin could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
The court’s ruling comes after Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump and an ardent supporter of baseless claims of election fraud, represented himself during a two-day bench trial last month in District Court in Santa Fe. Three New Mexico residents filed the case in March, arguing that Griffin should be removed from his elected position for violating the Constitution, as the judge found.
The ruling also marks the first time since 1869 that a court has disqualified a public official under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW), a government watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.
“This is a historic win for accountability for the Jan. 6 insurrection and the efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in the United States,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a news release. “Protecting American democracy means ensuring those who violate their oaths to the Constitution are held responsible.”
Griffin was among the mob that stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to overturn the election. He was arrested on Jan. 18, 2021, and convicted this past summer of illegally entering or remaining on restricted grounds. Griffin was sentenced to 14 days in jail, but was given credit for time served.
On the day he was sentenced, all three Republican Otero County commissioners refused to certify the results of New Mexico’s June 7 primary election. The commissioners cited distrust of vote-counting machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based company that has been the target of many of former President Donald Trump’s false claims about fraudulent 2020 election results.
Under pressure from the New Mexico Supreme Court and the Attorney General’s Office, the board ultimately voted 2-1 to certify the results. Griffin, the sole holdout, did not cite any evidence of voter fraud but instead cited a “gut feeling” as the reason he would not vote to certify the election results.
In March, Griffin and the other two commissioners voted to spend nearly $50,000 to conduct a study they labeled an audit of the county’s election results. The money went to subcontractor EchoMail, the company behind a high-profile review of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona, that found no fraud. During the Otero County study, some voters reported being asked who they voted for in the election by members of the “audit force.”
The study prompted an investigation by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which gave EchoMail until March 31 to turn over the records related to the company’s involvement in the canvassing of Otero County voters. Two days later, instead of handing over the records, EchoMail’s president V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai denied his company was involved.
The lawmakers wrote they are concerned that the company’s actions “may lead to voter intimidation” in violation of federal law and that Ayyadurai’s denial is disproved by documents given to state and local governments in New Mexico.
Tuesday’s ruling stipulates that Griffin is constitutionally disqualified from serving as a senator or representative in Congress, elector of president and vice president or from holding “any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, “including his current office as a Otero County commissioner.” Griffin was considering a run for Catron County sheriff.
Kathleen Sabo, the executive director of the nonpartisan New Mexico Ethics Watch, noted the ethical elements involved for anyone serving in public office.
“New Mexico Ethics Watch would suggest people ask whether Mr. Griffin’s actions enhanced or supported the public trust, or sought to undermine it,” Sabo said. “New Mexico Ethics Watch encourages public servants to uphold the public trust to the best of their ability, foregoing even the appearance of impropriety.”
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