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Political Shakedown is not an Equal Protection Violation

By Robyn Hagan Cain on January 24, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Political corruption claims are all-too-common. Usually, such claims are resolved when the politician either winds up with jail time, or beats the charges.

Today, however, we have a case in which a political corruption “victim” pushed a case all the way to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the politicians -- former New Mexico State Treasurer Robert Vigil and his deputy, Ann Marie Gallegos -- violated the victim’s civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Tenth Circuit judges weren’t sympathetic to the victim’s plight.

SECSYS, LLC, the plaintiff, claimed that Vigil and Gallegos hatched a plan to dissuade a political rival from opposing Vigil in an upcoming an election by throwing work from state contractors at the opponent's wife, Samantha Sais. SECSYS said that Vigil and Gallegos solicited bids for state contracts, and insisted that interested contractors hire Sais on any terms she wished.

SECSYS was actually willing to play ball, but ultimately couldn't agree on a deal with Sais. (Sais wanted 40 percent of SECSYS's gross income from a state contract; SECSYS was only willing to pay 40 percent of the net.) When SECSYS couldn't reach an agreement with Sais, Vigil and Gallegos gave the contract to another company that agreed to Sais' terms.

Vigil's attempt to protect his job ultimately cost him his job. Vigil resigned in 2005 while the legislature was contemplating impeachment proceedings, and was later indicted and convicted on corruption charges.

SECSYS sued Vigil and Gallegos, alleging an equal protection violation. SECSYS conceded that it was willing to partially meet Vigil's and Gallegos' demands, so it claimed that the pair of politicos discriminated because SECSYS was "only willing to pay some of an allegedly extortionate demand."

You can see why the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was somewhat incredulous about the equal protection violation claim.

The district court granted summary judgment for Robert Vigil and Ann Marie Gallegos on the equal protection claim, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned that the defendants' putative rule in this case, (pay Sais what she asks or you don't get the contract), applied to all bidders equally. Since the defendants' political corruption applied equally to all state contract bidders, no presumption of intentional discrimination arises. Without intent to discriminate, an equal protection violation lawsuit cannot survive.

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