Tuesday, February 2, 2010

AG Sues to Stop White Peak Land Exchanges... Petitions NM Supreme Court for Emergency Stay

Monday, February 01, 2010
(SANTA FE)---In petitioning the New Mexico Supreme Court today, Attorney General Gary King says the White Peak land exchanges violate state law and the bidding process used is unconstitutional.

"The public auction requirement for State Trust Land exchanges with private parties appears to be predetermined in the first two of the four proposed deals." says Attorney General King. "We are asking the Court for a writ of mandamus and an emergency stay that prohibits further exchanges of state trust lands by the land commissioner that violate the New Mexico Constitution."

Attorney General King's petition to the Court states in part:

On January 7, 2010, New Mexico’s Commissioner of Public Lands, Patrick H. Lyons (hereinafter, the “Commissioner”), consummated a land exchange with the Stanley Ranch, the first of four major land exchanges that comprise what the Commissioner refers to as the Whites Peak Exchange. On December 17, 2009, the Commissioner notified the Express UU Bar Ranch that it was the winning bidder for the second of these four land exchanges....New Mexico law requires that the Commissioner conduct a public auction before undertaking exchanges of State Trust Lands with private parties. This requirement derives directly from the Enabling Act of 1910, which provided terms for the admission of New Mexico to the Union and is fully incorporated into the Constitution as part of the “fundamental law” of New Mexico.... The Enabling Act deliberately established rigid procedural safeguards—including the public auction requirement—to prevent the exploitation of State Trust Lands by private parties. By the design of Congress, a public auction ensures that the trust obtains the maximum market price for its assets and all but eliminates the possibility of improper dealing between the Commissioner and private parties...In this case, however, despite purporting to comply with the public auction requirement, the Commissioner undertook the first two of these exchanges using public auctions that were, for all practical purposes, shams. The undisputed facts make clear that, notwithstanding the public auction requirement, the Land Commissioner made a predetermination to exchange specific and substantial portions of State Trust Lands with two specific private parties. The Commissioner then narrowly tailored the “public auction” process to effectively guarantee this result. In so doing, he rendered the constitutional requirement for a public auction into a meaningless formality... This Petition thus addresses a relatively narrow question never before addressed by a New Mexico court: Does the Commissioner violate the duty imposed on him by the Enabling Act, the New Mexico Constitution, and his fiduciary obligations to the trust by conducting substantially constrained “public auctions” in order to achieve a predetermined result?

Attorney General King says the unusual step of bypassing the lower courts and petitioning the Supreme Court was taken because of the constitutional issues in question, the immediate effects on the public interest, and the fact that more White Peak land exchanges are proposed.