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Carol Smith Rising, Division Director

menuright NM Statute 8-8-10

Purpose

The Legal Division provides legal counsel to all divisions of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. More specifically, the division provides competent and professional representation for Staff in all matters before the Commission or Insurance Superintendent. The Legal Division is also responsible for providing legal counsel to the Commission and Insurance Superintendent in matters not involving advice on contested proceedings.

Mission

The Legal Division protects the public interest by providing a guarantee of agency integrity on two general fronts:

• The Division advises and vigorously advocates on behalf of Staff, ensuring that all issues are explored, cases are fully developed and fairly heard, and a substantial record is established to serve as the basis for Commission and Insurance Superintendent decisions.
• The Division acts as a conscience for the agency by assuring that the due process rights of the public and all parties are respected, and that agency positions, policies and practices are compliant with all legal requirements.




Organization

The Legal Division employs 11 lawyers (including the Director) and four legal support workers. The Division is informally divided into two bureaus: (1) Utilities and Telecommunications; and (2) Corporations, Insurance and Transportation.


Operations

Lawyers in the first bureau develop competence and experience in cases involving electric, gas, water, wastewater and telecommunications entities. Two legal support workers are assigned to this bureau. The second bureau works on corporations, transportation, pipeline safety and insurance matters and represents the Fire Marshal’s Office. Two legal support workers are assigned to this Bureau.

Every lawyer has a special expertise in a particular area of practice. However, the Division employs interdisciplinary training and case assignment, within and across both bureaus, so that each lawyer has the opportunity to develop competence and experience in various subject matter areas. As needed, individuals also assist the agency in legislative and administrative matters.

The strength of the Legal Division is best measured by the depth and degree of its accumulated wisdom. Staff attorneys average 17 years of government/regulatory experience, and 23 years in the overall practice of law. This is especially important, as the Division must litigate against large, multistate corporations and outside law firms.

Staff attorneys have taken the lead in developing working relationships with other state agencies to coordinate activities and ensure best practices. These agencies include the Departments of Public Safety, Environment, Energy and Minerals and the State Engineer’s Office.

Future Direction

Our participation in those processes as well as in strategic planning has had positive results in the areas of responsiveness and relationship, both internal to the agency and external to lawmakers, other agencies, interested parties and regulated entities. In consideration of concerns raised, we have identified the need for increased resources in the areas of case management and more expeditious forms of dispute resolution. Particularly, we intend to assist in the transformation of “COMPLAINT” into “COMPLIANT.”

We expect to play a leading role in the process of reviewing and revising procedural rules for the agency as a whole, as well as those specific to the separate Divisions. Already we have begun to file cases on behalf of technical Staff to bring before the Commission those issues of interpretation that have significant policy implications. Our goal is to establish coherent principles and consistent practices for every major legal function we perform. Toward this end, we fashion our continuing education in recognition of the necessity for national knowledge and networking.