- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The lead attorney for the New Mexico Legislature in a legal challenge of major budget vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn from the case at the urging of a state agency.

Attorney Thomas Hnasko notified the Supreme Court of his withdrawal from efforts to block vetoes by the governor that would defund the legislative branch and all state institutions of higher education. He declined further comment Tuesday.

In court filings, Hnasko says the New Mexico Risk Management Division requested he leave the case based on a “perceived conflict of interest.” The private law firm where Hnasko works, Hinkle Shanor LLP, is contracted as defense counsel by the agency.

The Supreme Court case is part of an escalating feud between the Democratic-led Legislature and the state’s Republican governor over how to resolve the state’s financial crisis.

Leading Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday there was no conflict of interest and that the Martinez administration was attempting to delay action by the Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments for May 15.

House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, and Senate President Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said in a statement that that “this will not deter our efforts to restore funding for higher education and an entire branch of government.”

A spokesman for the governor, Michael Lonergan, said in an email that the Hinkle Shanor law firm has represented the Martinez administration on numerous occasions over the past six years, and that one unnamed partner has represented the governor directly.

“Of course there’s a conflict of interest,” Lonergan wrote.

The Legislature says the governor’s line-item vetoes would “effectively abolish” state institutions of higher education and upset the balance of power between branches of government. Martinez says she is determined to defeat the Legislature’s proposed tax increases and wants to call lawmakers back to Santa Fe to renegotiate a budget plan.

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