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Monday, June 21, 2004

Los Alamos - Officials may face testing pressure

lamonitor.com: The Online News Source for Los Alamos

Officials may face testing pressure
CAROL A. CLARK, lanews@lamonitor.com, Monitor Staff Writer

Pressure to submit to volunteer drug testing has become a popular topic among elected officials since the arrest last month of the chief judge of state district court.

A police spokesperson said officers stopped Judge W. John Brennan, 57, after he tried to avoid a sobriety checkpoint. He is accused of drunken driving, possession of a controlled substance and evidence tampering.

Adding momentum to the topic is allegations of possible cocaine use by other judges, which were raised in a 1998 narcotics intelligence report based on confidential, unsubstantiated material.

Gov. Bill Richardson was asked about a proposal by Sen. Steve Komadina, R-Corrales, for voluntary, random drug testing of judges and other elected officials, including the governor, legislators and members of the congressional delegation.

"I think it's a good idea - I'll test myself," Richardson said in a news conference Wednesday.

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Edward L. Chavez went one better and actually took a test Friday.

The state Supreme Court announced Wednesday that judges could be required to undergo drug testing if they come under investigation for alleged illegal drug use.

"I have never had anyone question my integrity and I don't want someone to wrongfully question it simply because I did not take a drug test," said Chavez in a late announcement Friday. "I feel it is vital that we restore the public's confidence in the Judges that are serving New Mexico."

Richardson appointed Chavez to the New Mexico Supreme Court in February 2003.

Prior to being on the Supreme Court, Chavez served as Chair of the State Bar's Disciplinary Board, which is the body responsible for holding lawyers accountable for their actions.

Rep. Nick Salazar does not have a problem with being tested or paying for the test himself. "I don't drink, do drugs or smoke," Salazar said. "People elect us to do the right thing and not to do it under the influence of anything."

He is vice chair of the Central New Mexico Economic Development District and attends many meetings. Sometimes he wonders about the condition of some people and thinks drug testing would be a good thing, he said.

Salazar said he hasn't noticed anyone in the state legislature acting fuzzy. "We are so busy and are going from town to town to attend meetings that I don't think we could keep up."

County council Chair Nona Bowman believes as public officials that she and others should be participating in illegal drug use. "I see no problem with it and would be happy to participate in the testing," she said.

Bowman had no strong opinion one way or the other about being required to pay for her own testing. She thought the issue should be taken up by the council and she would go along with what the majority felt was best.

Komadina said he would propose a nonbinding measure in next year's legislative session asking elected officials to voluntarily submit to random drug testing.

The test results would be disclosed on a web site maintained by the secretary of state's office.

"The public deserves to know whether we do indeed abide by our own laws," Komadina said. "Drug testing will allow elected officials to prove they hold themselves to the same standards they hold members of the public."

"Government has the responsibility to prove that it is not being run by a bunch of druggies," Komadina said.

He proposes that elected officials pay the cost of the drug tests.

"I have no problem with drug testing," Rep. Jeannette Wallace said. "But we aren't paid except per diem for expenses so I don't think it's right that we should have to pay for the testing."

County Councilor Mike Wheeler expressed his strong opposition to the whole idea. "I'm totally against it," Wheeler said. "I've given up civil rights for 30 years to work in an industry that demands giving up those types of freedoms."

Wheeler works for the Los Alamos National Laboratory and said that nuclear programs and certain other types of industries require a specific level of standards but testing of elected officials was not right.

"It's as crazy as testing our high school athletes for drug use and abuse," Wheeler said. "I don't think we as a nation should be doing this."

Richardson said he would likely support Komadina's proposal but needed to review it to ensure there's no legal barriers to voluntary drug testing of elected officials.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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