Ousted election clerk hit with ethics lawsuit in New Mexico

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A local elections regulator in rural New Mexico who was recently declared missing from work and replaced is now facing possible sanctions from a commission that oversees ethics and conduct by government officials.

The civil lawsuit against Yvonne Otero was filed Tuesday by the State Ethics Commission. It alleges that Otero used her office for personal gain and to exchange favors, seeking sanctions that include fines of up to $5,000.

Otero, a Republican elected as Torrance County clerk in 2020, was replaced in office last month by a decision of the board of county commissioners. The all-Republican board says Otero went missing from work and abandoned her duties. Linda Jaramillo was appointed in her place to serve as clerk through 2024.

Jacob Candelaria, an attorney for Otero, called the misconduct allegations by the State Ethics Commission “outlandish, sexist and politically motivated,” and said that Otero has not abandoned her elected post.

“We intend to vigorously defend against these allegations,” he said Friday.

Separately, Otero has petitioned the state Supreme Court to reinstate her as county clerk.

Otero’s conduct has come under scrutiny at the same time that Torrance County officials grapple with simmering mistrust about voting systems.

Torrance was one of a handful of rural counties in New Mexico that considered delaying certification of the results of its June 2022 primary election as angry crowds gave voice to unproven conspiracy theories about voting systems. Commissioners later ordered a hand-tally of primary ballots and assigned a county manager to ensure adequate preparations for the general election.

Commissioners last year accused Otero in a censure resolution of harassing employees of the clerk’s office and botching the certification of the county’s ballot-counting machines in the run-up to the November 2022 election. Machines were recertified.

Otero’s petition to the Supreme Court argues that county commissioners decided without proper evidence or due process that she had abandoned her duties as clerk. Otero also is challenging the constitutionality of a statute that was used to remove and replace her. The court has yet to respond.

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