New Mexico Court Stays Push For Grand Juries On Covid Steps

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Supreme Court has put on hold several citizen requests that used petition drives to call for convening grand juries to investigate Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's handling of COVID-19.

The state high court on Tuesday granted Lujan Grisham's motion for a stay of requests filed in Eddy, Lea and Chaves counties in southeastern New Mexico pending further court filings, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

Republican legislators and others have criticized Lujan Grisham's imposition of masking mandates and other public-health requirements during the pandemic as overly burdensome and infringing on personal freedoms. She has defended them as necessary to curb the spread of the coronavirus

State Sen. David Gallegos, one of the individuals seeking grand juries, expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court's order.

“You would think at some point in time the people could be heard,” Gallegos told the Journal.

A Eunice Republican, Gallegos said he was seeking grand juries as a citizen and not as a legislator.

New Mexico is one of just a few states that allows for citizen-initiated grand jury proceedings, which under the New Mexico Constitution require a certain number of voter signatures be submitted for a judge to convene such a grand jury.

Grand juries are typically used by prosecutors in order to indict individuals for alleged criminal wrongdoing.

The state Supreme Court has generally upheld the legality of Lujan Grisham's actions to combat the pandemic. However, the justices on Wednesday sided with legislators who challenged her authority to unilaterally spend roughly $1.7 billion in federal relief funds.

Lujan Grisham's general counsel, Holly Agajanian, said in a court filing that the petitions for grand juries were a “creative scheme" that lacked solid legal ground.

“While the citizens filing the petitions may disagree with the governor’s approach to the pandemic, none of these allegations even remotely demonstrate that she has committed any crime,” Agajanian wrote.

In another pandemic development, the school district for New Mexico's second most populous city has introduced new protocols for schools with higher rates of spread of the coronavirus.

Amid a continued rise in case numbers, Las Cruces Public Schools will require those schools to require students face one way in classroom and cafeteria settings, allow only essential visitors, have students go directly to classrooms upon arrival and to stagger transition, recess and dismissal times, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.