The Attack On Qualified Immunity

New Mexico House Bill 4 and Senate Bill 376 are improperly titled. Proponents of House Bill 4 refer to it as the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, and Senate Bill 376, originally labeled Prohibit Defense of Qualified Immunity Act, is an attempt to amend the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. They would both be more appropriately labeled the Greed Acts.


Here is what the sponsors of those bills want the public to believe: police officers are bad people with guns running wild in the street who do what they want, when they want, as they want and suffer no consequences or ramifications for their actions, no matter how egregious.


If that is the case, could someone please explain to me why, when cops do wrong, they are terminated from their jobs, arrested, charged with crimes, sent to prison if found guilty, and state and local governments pay millions of dollars in restitution to the victims of police misconduct? And after the state finishes with them, the federal government can also pursue civil rights violations?


The answer is simple: qualified immunity is under attack because those in favor of eliminating it want to lower the bar for bringing lawsuits into court against police officers and other public employees. And it isn't just cops who are under attack. These bills target our education system and the educators therein.


Without qualified immunity we will have lawsuits filed ad nauseam in state district court for every petty grievance where someone got their feelings hurt because a government official did or didn't do whatever a plaintiff wanted or didn't want at any given point in time (public schools have long been a babysitting function for irresponsible parents who expect the education system to raise their kids, but those same parents are quick to find fault if a teacher disciplines their little shits).


Might as well put a windsock on top of every district court in the state, and every time the wind changes direction it will signal the opportunity to file another frivolous lawsuit at taxpayer expense.


Here is what Brenda Boatman of Americans for Prosperity said Wednesday night when House Bill 4 passed the N.M. Senate Judiciary Committee: "House Bill 4 would allow New Mexicans who have had their rights violated to have their day in court. It removes the barrier of a judge created doctrine and gives strength to the New Mexico constitution."


A judge created doctrine....well, we wouldn't the inconvenience of a doctrine created by people who know the law interfering with our effort to stuff our pockets with money, would we? My humble opinion is that constitutions are strengthened by judicial interpretations of the law, not weakened, and one of the reasons we have people in positions of authority and responsibility in our court system is so they can prevent petty lawsuits from overloading an already overburdened court system.


Under House Bill 4, no individual teacher, law enforcement officer or other public employee can be sued. Only government agencies can be sued. However, many believe that more lawsuits will bankrupt school districts and local governments. You don't say.


This is about greed, folks, nothing less. When lawyers cosponsor bills that eliminate qualified immunity and raise caps on tort claims against our public servants, it's all about the money. Remember these names: Georgene Louis, Brian Egolf and Joseph Cervantes. They are all attorneys and they are cosponsoring House Bill 4. Cervantes is behind the attempt to amend the NM Tort Claims Act, and the original bill went after cops specifically.


Too bad the focus is not on improving education for New Mexico's children. For how many decades has this state ranked last and next to last in child education and welfare? How many governors and legislatures have sat in Santa Fe knowing the problem and failed to rectify it? And what about working with the cops to seek resolutions to perceived problems instead of against them? I say "perceived problems" because, in my opinion, many of these violent confrontations between police and citizens are the result of societal dysfunction, and not improperly trained police.


If these bills pass, prepare for an even more downgraded educational system, difficulty in recruiting law enforcement officers, higher taxes (because the money paid out in lawsuits has got to come from the public coffers, which means when those are drained, and they will be, the NM taxpayer will be shelling out more and more), and longer wait times in court for legitimate claims.












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J.R. LONSWAY

AUTHOR | RETIRED DEPUTY CHIEF OF POLICE

J.R. Lonsway served 22 years with the Las Cruces, New Mexico, police department and retired as a Deputy Chief of Police. After retirement he served with the U.S. Department of State as a police advisor in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti, Lebanon, and South Sudan. He is a former U.S. Marine.

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