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Jesse James Johnson, Chuck Henry and Joe Apache recall, Raton, New Mexico (2010)

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A vote about whether to recall Jesse James Johnson, Chuck Henry and Joe Apache from their positions as city commissioners in the city of Raton, New Mexico, took place on September 14, 2010.[1] All three were removed from office.[2]

Jesse James Johnson served as Mayor of the city of Raton, Chuck Henry served as Mayor Pro Tem and Joe Apache served as a Commissioner when the recall occurred.[3]

Regaining a full quorum

The city's commission normally had five members. The successful recall of three city commissioners during September 2010 left the city with only two commissioners (and less than a quorum) until January 2011. At that time, the two remaining commissioners complied with the November 2010 orders of Eighth Judicial District Court Judge, John Paternoster, when remaining commissioners, Sandra "Sandy" Mantz and Charles Starkovich, appointed three additional city commissioners.[4]

The period between July 2010 and January 2011 was tumultuous for the city and local citizens. This period including threatened or actual lawsuits related to elections; a once-scheduled (but later cancelled, by District Court order) public election which would have allowed the city's voters to fill the remaining three commission seats (rather than having the two city commissioners who had not been recalled, appoint three other commissioners) -- and other events, as reported in detail in the (now-defunct) twice-weekly Raton Range newspaper; and as summarized in periodic updates by the Albuquerque Journal.[4]

Judge orders city officials to reinstate purged recall petition signatures

In July 2010 -- ( as reported in July and August 2010 by the Albuquerque Journal and the Raton Range) -- Eighth Judicial District Court Judge, John Paternoster, was asked by citizens from Raton to hold a hearing in regards to the issue of whether or not the city's clerk had improperly purged voter's signatures from certain recall petitions. Three such recall petitions existed -- (one each for each commissioner then being considered for recall from office) -- with two of those petitions having previously been deemed by city officials to contain enough valid voter's signatures to force a recall election to be held against then-Mayor, Jesse James Johnson, and then-Mayor Pro-Tem, Chuck Henry. Those two petitions were, therefore, not under discussion as part of that court hearing. However, the third recall petition (against Joe Apache) was in question: in that it may or may not have contained enough valid voter's signatures to force his name to be present on the upcoming recall election ballot. Citizens who had been circulating Apache's recall petition requested a hearing in Judge Paternoster's court, after the city's clerk had formally claimed that over 100 of the signatures on Apache's petition were not "valid" voter's signatures; and thus, that the required number of signatures to include Apache's name on a recall election ballot had not been met. The citizens who had circulated that petition disagreed with the city's determination. Those citizens asked Judge Paternoster to force the city to reinstate enough of the allegedly "invalid" voter's signatures, to force Joe Apache's name to be added to the recall election ballot. During a hearing on the matter held in late July 2010, District Court Judge John Paternoster, while claiming that there was "no evident bad faith on the part of any party ... in this cause," ordered city officials to reinstate enough of the signatures in question that commissioner Apache's name was added to the recall election ballot, alongside the other two commissioners. Judge Paternoster was quoted in the Raton Range newspaper as having said that to have purged those signatures "simply because of mismatching addresses was unreasonable and insufficient and contrary to law." The city's attorney, Ray Floersheim, had argued during the hearing that, "There’s no legislative guidance," and had stated that the city's clerk, in purging the signatures in question, had used "common sense". Judge Paternoster's written decision on the matter included the language that, "In the absence of any proof that the petitioners were not the same identical persons" (whose voter registration signature and other information had been compared by the city clerk to the information present on the recall petition itself), that the city's purging of those voter's signatures was "an unreasonable infringement of a citizen’s right under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution to petition the government for the redress of grievances." Judge Paternoster also wrote that alleged discrepancies regarding a voter's address (when city officials compared the information found on a voter's registration card against the information that same voter had supplied on a recall petition form), "cannot constitutionally disqualify an otherwise qualified elector from participating in the petition process." Judge Paternoster ordered the recall petition signatures which city officials had purged from Apache's recall petition to be reinstated on that petition: thus adding commissioner Apache's name to the recall election ballot which was already scheduled to contain the names of fellow city commissioners Johnson and Henry.[5][6]

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