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Deputy public defender denies sexual harassment accusations

February 20, 2018

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Two female attorneys who filed sexual harassment complaints against Chief Deputy Public Defender Chandler Blair are still pursuing their claims after the New Mexico Disciplinary Board declined to take action.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that one woman’s complaint has been sent to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and a second alleged victim has asked the state Supreme Court to review the Disciplinary Board’s decision.

Blair has denied any inappropriate contact with either woman.

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur said he couldn’t discuss the issue other than to say the safety of employees and those with whom they interact with is important. “So are the rights of our employees to be treated fairly and confidentially,” Baur said.

The Disciplinary Board’s legal counsel said the decision to take no action was made in part because of insufficient evidence and because the New Mexico Rules of Professional Conduct only address the behavior of lawyers related to their representation of clients, not in their workplace.

“Sexual harassment by an attorney against his co-workers or employees is deplorable,” the board’s assistant disciplinary counsel wrote. “But as the rules stand, that is a matter for the attorney’s employers, not for the Disciplinary Board.”

David James, an assistant district attorney in Lordsburg who worked for a short time as the managing attorney of the Public Defender’s Office in Clovis, filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Board in October on behalf of Jocelyn Garrison, a public defender in his office at the time.

He said Garrison told him that Blair came up behind her while she was sitting in her office, put his hands around her neck and choked her for about 20 seconds while whispering something vulgar in her ear. James wrote in the complaint he was told Blair then grabbed the woman’s buttocks and genitals as she got up to leave the room.

Garrison declined to speak about the allegations, citing the pending complaint before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Andrea Reeb said Garrison also told her about the incident after Garrison said she learned the Public Defender’s Office decided not to take action against Blair.

Reeb said an attorney on her own staff subsequently told her Blair had shouted at her in open court, and about a month later the same attorney said Blair had touched her inappropriately while passing her in the courtroom.

Reeb filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Board in April and May of 2017.

After the board declined to take action on Reeb’s complaint, a subsequent review also did not result in action against Blair, according to Reeb. She said Blair’s accuser in the case has since asked the state Supreme Court to review the decision.

The allegations come after the New Mexico Legislature overhauled its policies against sexual misconduct and harassment ahead of its recent 30-day session. The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office also began offering training for lobbyists to combat workplace misconduct.

The Public Defender’s Office employs more than 200 attorneys who represent indigent defendants across New Mexico.

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Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com

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