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Attorneys for Trump in New Mexico confront new scrutiny

In this image from video released by the House Select Committee, John Eastman, a lawyer for former President Donald Trump, appears during a video deposition to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol at the hearing June 16, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Eastman says in a federal court filing that FBI agents have seized his cellphone. (House Select Committee via AP)

SANTA FE – Renewed efforts are underway to investigate and possibly discipline two attorneys who helped the Donald Trump campaign challenge New Mexico’s 2020 presidential election results in the weeks before the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

A group including former Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez on Thursday asked the state Supreme Court to intervene and ensure an investigation in public view of the two attorneys who represented the Trump campaign for possible violations of standards of professional conduct.

The complaint cites possible violations of conduct rules by New Mexico-based attorney Mark J. Caruso and another attorney, Michael Smith, who lists a Texas address and a Washington law license.

The state’s chief disciplinary counsel and disciplinary board chairman previously determined in confidential proceedings that there was no violation of rules against frivolous litigation by Caruso and Smith.

Caruso said by email that he was confident the Supreme Court will stand behind the previous finds, describing the accusations as “political claims by N.M. Democrat attorneys.”

The new complaint against the attorneys highlights recent testimony in the congressional hearings about Jan. 6, including the role of Santa Fe-based lawyer John Eastman as a chief architect of plans after the 2020 election to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence into rejecting the Electoral College results. The California State Bar is investigating whether Eastman violated that state’s law and ethics rules for attorneys.

Now-President Joe Biden won the 2020 vote in New Mexico by about 11 percentage points or nearly 100,000 ballots. But the Trump campaign still filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque that sought to invalidate absentee ballots cast at drop boxes and halt the certification of New Mexico’s presidential electors.

New Mexico is among seven states where fake electors submitted false Electoral College certificates that declared Trump the true winner of the 2020 election. The new complaint says Caruso and Smith might have encouraged the fake electors.

“The relief that Mr. Caruso and Mr. Smith requested was tantamount to asking the federal court to overturn the election in New Mexico, despite a landslide victory for President Biden,” says the lawsuit filed by Chavez and five other New Mexico attorneys. “Given the gravity of possible attorney involvement in a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, the (New Mexico) Supreme Court, the Bar and the electorate all need any decision, either enforcing discipline or exonerating Mr. Caruso and Mr. Smith, to demonstrate deliberation and thoroughness, in a nonconfidential and public manner.”

New Mexico’s office of the disciplinary counsel in March wrote that “Caruso and Smith’s actions may warrant public hearings in some other forum, but not due to their actions within the confines of the rules of professional conduct.”

A New York appeals court last year suspended the law license of Rudy Giuliani, the point man for pushing Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election. The court said Giuliani’s bid to discredit the election was so egregious that he poses “an immediate threat” to the public.

The Texas bar association is seeking to punish state Attorney General Ken Paxton, citing professional misconduct in his failed efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election based on bogus claims of fraud.