Couy Griffin attends Otero County Commission meeting as a member of the public after his ouster
Board meets for the first time since historic court ruling; governor will appoint replacement
Couy Griffin speaks for three minutes during the public comment period of the Otero County Commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022. Griffin was booted from the board earlier in the week by court order due to his participation in the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Screenshot via the Otero County Commission livestream)
The Otero County Commission met Thursday for the first time since former Commissioner Couy Griffin was removed from office by court order earlier this week because of his participation in the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Griffin’s nameplate and chair were both absent from the dais as the two remaining commissioners called the regular meeting to order. Griffin, however, attended the meeting and even spoke during the public comment session.
Each speaker was given three minutes to address the commission, and Griffin used his time to discuss two items on the agenda — funding for a road and a contract extension for the county attorney. But Griffin also used the final minute of his allotted time to address his removal from office, telling those in attendance that his computer was seized by county officials before he was notified that District Court Judge Francis J. Mathew had ruled Griffin could no longer serve in his elected position — or any other for the rest of his life.
“This has been the hardest time of my life, not that I’m trying to get anybody’s sympathy. But it’s been very difficult for me,” Griffin said. “I think that it’s just very difficult that I don’t have the respect of being able to be out by Friday without having the county sheriff or the sheriff’s department standing guard.”
In an interview Thursday, Griffin told Source New Mexico that he learned of the judge’s ruling during a phone call from the Otero County manager. That’s also when he learned he no longer had access to his county office, and that his county-issued computer had been removed from his office.
“That’s the thing that has hurt the most in this. I kind of was bracing myself because I figured that it was going to go this way,” Griffin said. “I’ve been in my office, cleaning my office out today with the undersheriff standing guard in the room. They won’t even give me a key to my office so I can get my stuff out without being surveilled by the sheriff’s department.”
Judge Mathew ruled Tuesday that Griffin was to be removed from his elected position and barred for life from holding any other elected federal and state positions.
The case against Griffin was initially filed in March by three New Mexico residents who argued Griffin should be removed from his elected position for violating the Constitution, specifically because of his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Griffin represented himself during a two-day bench trial last month in District Court in Santa Fe. In Tuesday’s decision, Judge Mathew ruled that Griffin had broken his oath to support the Constitution when he participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack in Washington, D.C., violating Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.
Griffin said he plans to appeal the ruling and that during the appeals process, he won’t be representing himself. Instead, he will be hiring “some great legal minds.”
The decision to represent himself during the bench trial was made, Griffin said, because he felt he’d provided the judge with strong evidence to have the case dismissed, and he never thought the case would go to trial. He also expressed frustration that a judge, and not Otero County voters, had the final say.
“The left is always crying about how our democracy is under attack. Well what bigger example is there whenever the courts remove a duly elected representative only to make way for the governor to hand select who she wants to represent the people?” Griffin said. “Now it’s no longer the people’s choice. It’s the governor’s choice.”
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, confirmed that the governor will fill the vacancy, adding that the governor accepts “applications from eligible residents” as possible replacements.
“Gov. Lujan Grisham knows that New Mexicans expect their elected officials to uphold our Constitution and rule of law,” Sackett said. “Protecting our democracy cannot be optional — the people of Otero County deserve elected officials committed to protecting and upholding our laws.”
And though he’s been removed from his seat on the county commission, Griffin showed that he won’t be silenced when it comes to county matters and is more than willing to address decisions made by his former colleagues as a private citizen. And being in the audience of Thursday’s meeting instead of being seated with the commissioners brought a specific feeling to his mind.
“Humility, brother,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s very humbling, and it’s very disappointing. … I know that sometimes you travel down a hard road to get to a better road, but God’s a gracious God, and I think he’s got me on that track.”
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