- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A federal judge dealt a potential setback Thursday to a defense strategy of Gov. Susana Martinez’s former campaign manager, who is charged with hijacking the campaign’s email system after Martinez took office.

U.S. District Judge William Johnson denied requests by Jamie Estrada’s attorneys to force the prosecution to provide information regarding the Martinez administration’s awarding of a lease that allowed a larger casino at the state fairgrounds.

The judge said Estrada’s request involved “largely irrelevant material.”

Estrada’s lawyer, Zachary Ives, didn’t immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment.

The judge also rejected Estrada’s request for information about the reactions of the governor and her staff related to hijacked email that was publicly leaked by administration critics. Johnson called it a “novel theory” that the information could be material to Estrada’s guilt or innocence.

Estrada has pleaded not guilty to charges of intercepting email in the campaign account and making false statements to federal investigators. Jury selection for his trial is scheduled to start July 15.

In making a pretrial request for documents and other information, Estrada’s lawyers contended that Martinez and her allies pressed for the federal prosecution of Estrada to deflect attention from possible corruption in the handling of the fairgrounds casino deal and minimize any political fallout for the governor, who is a rising star in national GOP circles.

The reactions of the governor and her aides to leaked email, according to Estrada’s lawyers, would reveal their “true motives” in pushing for the prosecution.

But the judge called it “absurd” that Martinez had any control over bringing charges against Estrada, particularly because she’s a Republican and the U.S. Justice Department is part of Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.

The judge also said the court “has no interest in devoting time and resources on matters that are neither relevant nor material to the conduct charged in the indictment.”

Prosecutors, in opposing Estrada’s request for information, had contended that Estrada’s defense was trying to transform the case into a “a sideshow of political grandstanding and mudslinging in an effort to inflame, distract or confuse the jury about his factual guilt or innocence.”

Estrada briefly served as campaign manager in 2009 as Martinez was starting her bid for governor. An FBI affidavit in the case says Estrada was fired, but he maintains that he left the campaign to run for a seat on the Public Regulation Commission. Martinez was elected in 2010.

Critics of the fairgrounds lease have questioned whether political contributions by track owners influenced the deal. But Martinez aides have repeatedly said the contributions didn’t play any role in awarding a 25-year lease to the Downs at Albuquerque, which has long operated a horse-racing track and casino at the fairgrounds.

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