- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

DEMING, N.M. (AP) - A court has ordered New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez to answer questions under oath in a defamation lawsuit linked to a group that was removed from a political event in 2014.

Martinez must submit to a deposition after Scott and Colette Chandler sued her state police security detail, The Deming Headlight newspaper reported last week. Martinez is not a defendant in the lawsuit, but state District Judge Timothy Aldrich rejected arguments that she is protected from answering questions.

The governor’s office had no immediate comment Tuesday.

The Chandlers own the Tierra Blanca Ranch program for troubled youth that has been the dogged by allegations of abuse and neglect. Colette Chandler said Tuesday that a law enforcement raid on the ranch in 2013 was unwarranted and that defamatory statements have persisted.

The Chandlers and more than a dozen supporters appeared in 2014 at a campaign event at Deming’s Grand Motor Inn to deliver a petition to the governor in defense of the ranch’s embattled youth program. The entire group was removed from the event by state police assigned to protect Martinez.

The lawsuit alleges that being thrown out of the event constituted defamation and assault and that it harmed the Chandlers’ reputation and business.

The judge ruled that Martinez has relevant knowledge about the incident and that she cannot refuse to provide information about the campaign event based on executive privilege or the “apex doctrine,” which can restrict the deposition of top state officials. The deposition is likely to be written questions and responses.

Scott Chandler sought the Republican nomination for a state House seat in 2016 but was narrowly defeated by Vicki Chavez after fliers reminding voters of the Tierra Blanca Ranch controversy were distributed by the political action committee Advance New Mexico Now.

The committee was run by Jay McCleskey, a political consultant close to the governor. Democratic Rep. Candie Sweetser ultimately won the House seat.

The judge rejected a motion from the Chandlers to suppress evidence about past abuse and neglect allegations because it might influence the jury. Aldrich ruled that the allegations are relevant to the Chandlers’ reputations in the community during the 2014 incident.

A trial in the defamation case is scheduled in April.

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