Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich announced they are seeking applicants for the soon-to-be vacant position of U.S. Attorney.
The current United States Attorney for New Mexico Kenneth Gonzales has been nominated for a federal judgeship by President Barack Obama. Gonzales will still need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become a federal judge.
Senators Udall and Heinrich will present a short-list of candidates to President Barack Obama to officially nominate.
The United States Attorney position in New Mexico has been an increasingly high-profile political position in recent years. The move to a federal judgeship by Gonzales shows that it can be a stepping-stone to other positions.
It can be politically dangerous as well, as shown by the David Iglesias scandal. The former United States attorney served for six years after being appointed by President George W. Bush. Then he was among a number of US Attorneys who were removed from their positions, a number of which were for allegedly political purposes.
None had as much attention as the Iglesias firing. Iglesias was allegedly fired for not following up on voter fraud allegations by former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. The allegations would have allegedly helped Wilson in her razor-thin race against Patricia Madrid for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District.
Gregory Fouratt, who followed Iglesias after interim appointee Larry Gomez took control of the U.S. Attorney’s office for a short time, also stepped into the realm of politics.
When news that Gov. Bill Richardson would not be charged in a massive pay-for-play investigation, Fouratt wrote a letter saying it did not mean that Richardson was exonerated.
The letter was heavily criticized at the time.
U.S. attorney Greg Fouratt sent a letter to prosecutors, claiming that pressure from the governor’s office had compromised the investigation, and that his decision not to indict “is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party’s conduct.” Washington legal experts denounced the letter, saying Fouratt should not be insinuating misconduct on the governor’s part if he chose not to indict. Mike McKay, who served as U.S. attorney in D.C. from 1989 to 1993, said the letter is “virtually unprecedented. It reflects extremely poor judgment.” Obama is expected to replace Fouratt, but is believed to have let him complete the investigation to avoid the appearance of interference.
While Iglesias did not get a federal judgeship, the Republican attorney did write a book about his time as U.S. Attorney and went to work as a terrorism prosecutor with the Defense Department’s Office of Military Commissions.