Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer
* More than 300 votes cast during early-voting period, officials say.
A judge on Monday suspended Wednesday’s recall election of De Baca County Sheriff Gary Graves.
Jonathan B. Sutin of the State Court of Appeals declared the recall election suspended “pending further order of the court,” according to court documents.
The judge is scheduled to hear arguments related to Graves’ case on Jan. 18.
Graves is accused of acts of malfeasance while in office, including the misappropriation of funds, mistreating prisoners, and sexual harassment, according to plaintiffs.
He denies the allegations.
De Baca County Clerk Laurie Pettigrew said 324 votes were cast during the early-voting period, which ended Saturday. She said there are approximately 1,400 registered voters in De Baca County.
Members of the De Baca County Concerned Citizens, who are plaintiffs in the Graves case, were upset by the ruling.
The plaintiffs believe a reluctance to recall a public official and politics swayed the courtroom decision.
“I felt sick to my stomach (when I heard of the suspension). It’s a crying shame that our judicial system sucks,” said Concerned Citizens member Ellis Jones, a 71-year-old, longtime Fort Sumner resident. “This man came into this little town and turned it upside down.”
Ninth Judicial District Judge Joe Parker previously ruled probable cause warranted the recall election.
The state court ruling alienates county citizens, said Allen Sparks, a De Baca county farmer and one of the six plaintiffs listed.
“This county has suffered enough. The people are the jury. The people are the court. Let the people speak,” a shaken Sparks said from his home, just hours after the ruling.
For Graves, who still holds the sheriff’s office, Monday was a day to rejoice.
Graves said he “jumped about 4 feet high” when the emergency stay was granted. “I feel wonderful that the court did what they did,” Graves said.