Eddy County District Judge Lisa Riley said she was awarded $50,000 in a defamation lawsuit against Carlsbad Municipal Schools, former-Carlsbad High School Principal Adam Amador and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), as allegations the judge made racist comments were retracted by LULAC.
The suit stemmed from an incident in 2018 when Riley’s son Will Riley, then a student at Carlsbad High School, organized a pro-Second Amendment rally on school grounds, which he said school officials attempted to block.
Amador accused Lisa Riley of calling him a “dumb Mexican” during a telephone conversation to discuss the conflict.
Subsequently, LULAC sent a letter of complaint to the Carlsbad Municipal School Board of Education noting her alleged comments leading to Riley filing the defamation suit as she continued to deny the allegations.
In an Oct. 11 Facebook post, Riley said the case was settled for $50,000 which she planned to donate to a local charity.
She said in the post that it was important to litigate the matter to protect Riley’s reputation of impartiality as a judge.
“We all value our reputations, but as a judge my reputation isn’t just personal, it is a reflection on the judicial system,” Riley wrote. “Judges are imperfect people, to be sure, and we do imperfect jobs, but everyone who comes to the court must be assured that their case will be decided, albeit imperfectly, on the merits, and not based on bias or prejudice.”
In a Sept. 30 news release, LULAC disavowed the allegations initially made by former-National Treasurer Paul “Pablo” Martinez in the letter to Carlsbad Municipal Schools and former-Superintendent Greg Rodriguez.
Martinez also accused Riley of starting a “racist campaign” against Amador, per the release.
Court records indicated 12th District Judge Ellen Jessen dismissed the complaint against Amador, Carlsbad School Board members, Rodriguez and Carlsbad High School employee Lisa Carrasco in the case, reporting a settlement was reached on Feb. 8, 2019.
Court records showed the case was still pending leaving Martinez as the sole defendant. Most recently on Sept. 28, Jessen denied a motion by Martinez that the court reconsider a default judgement against him.
All Fifth Judicial District judge who serve alongside Riley were recused from the case.
LULAC said Martinez’s allegations were in response to allegations made to him by Amador, but that Amador chose to not substantiate the allegations in court during the case, meaning Martinez’s allegations became similarly frivolous.
“LULAC remains vigilant to aggressively expose and combat all forms of racism directed against Latinx persons and other persons of color. However, in this particular instance, after litigation was initiated by Judge Riley, Principal Garcia-Amador chose not to vet his allegations in court, which severely undermined their credibility, and in turn the credibility of Treasurer Martinez’s pursuit of his cause,” read the release.
“Therefore, Pablo Martinez has retracted his derivative statement regarding racist actions and intentions by Judge Lisa Riley towards Principal Garcia-Amador and LULAC disavows (sic) them as unsubstantiated.”
‘Stand for the Second’ and allegations of racism
Riley’s conflict with Carlsbad schools began when her son Will Riley, a then-senior at Carlsbad High School, led a walkout and rally at the school in support, he said at the time, of the Second Amendment and the “right to bear arms.”
The demonstration, dubbed “Stand for the Second” came in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students and parents at that school called for federal gun law reforms.
At the time of the event, Will Riley said he intended to show that not all high school students were against guns.
The event was held on May 2, 2018 and drew attention from Carlsbad police and school security who locked down Carlsbad High School’s campus during the event, barring reporters and members of the public from entering.
Supporters lined Church Street as students carrying gun rights signs walked from the to the High School’s main gates.
Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage was on hand to voice his support of the students.
In the days leading up to the walkout, Lisa Riley alleged Amador attempted to disrupt Stand for the Second by intimidating her son and threatening him with suspension.
That’s what led to multiple meetings between Lisa Riley, her son and school officials during which Amador initially accused her of the “racist” comments.
The initial suit accused Amador, Martinez, Rodriguez and Carrasco of making public statements and comments to the Current-Argus in the following weeks, repeating the allegation, while also alleging the Carlsbad School Board “failed to act” by denying the accusations against Riley.
“All of these statements are scurrilous, untrue, harmful, malicious, willful and wanton defamatory statements about a very professional district judge in the Fifth Judicial District of New Mexico,” the complaint read.
“These are unfounded, have no basis in fact and defendant School Board members had a duty to repudiate such defamatory statements by their administration.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.