Civility In El Salto: Black Cloud at Complex “Disappeared!”

By: Bill Whaley
7 August, 2019

On Thursday, Aug. 1, Judge Emilio Chavez swore in Marcos “Markie” Montoya as the newly appointed District Attorney for the 8th Judicial District, which includes Taos, Colfax (Raton), and Union (Clayton) Counties in North Central and North East New Mexico. Judge Chavez reminded Montoya that the oath of office mentioned the words “faithfully” and “impartially” when it came to applying the law. About fifty people, judges, friends, supporters, relatives, assistant DAs, attorneys, and employees attended the ceremony. Anselmo “Chemo” Valerio, grandfather of the new DA, smiled from ear to ear. The court custodian, Flavio, commented on the absence of “Black Cloud” that used to hang over the Complex.

El Salto Civility

The Pesky Insect also attended Judge Emilio Chavez’s court on July 1st, 2019 for status hearings on three matters affecting members of El Salto de Agua Association, a 1948 land corporation formed by 74 original member/shareholders from the Salto, Seco, Desmontes area.

(1) In Petition of Declaratory Judgment (D-820-CV-2016-00138) to determine Shareholders in the El Salto De Agua Association and For appointment of a Special Master (pending since 2016), the judge set up a schedule with attorneys for an eventual rule on a Special Masters’ recommendations re: the heirs of the original owners for the 1997 acre tract above El Salto. The area includes three water falls, elk and deer hunting, hiking, Christmas Tree and fire wood harvest areas. The 300 names mentioned in the petition are represented “pro se” by members and by individual attorneys.

2) In the above-mentioned hearing, Chavez also set a later hearing for the Restraining Order (D-820-CV-2019-00256) from plaintiffs and former board members and supporters, Erminio Martinez, Bolivar Quintana, Joe Torres, Raymundo Garcia Jr. Ruben Martinez, and Leo Valencia Jr. who filed a motion to stop the annual (June 29, 2019) meeting, claiming that non-certified members would be allowed to vote for election of Board of Director members in violation of by-laws and articles of incorporation. Prior to the hearings, on June 28, Judge Chavez denied the petition for a Temporary Restraining Order, aimed at stopping the annual membership meeting of El Salto de Agua, Inc. and subsequent election of board of directors on June 29, 2019. He will hear motions on the above later this summer or early fall.

Current board members Norbert Mondragon, Arnold Quintana, Cynthia Manjarres, Charlie Martinez, Moises Martinez are conducting business under the prior “Compromise and Settlement Agreement” agreed to between contending parties. The Settlement was signed under the supervision of Attorneys for Plaintiffs, Salto Board Association attorney Joe Caldwell, and Defendants (prior board members et al) attorney Alan Maestas on Nov. 17, 2018. The Compromise and Settlement binds all the parties, including former board members Erminio Martinez and Joe Torres et al, who continue to raise issues in court. The Settlement permits claimants one vote each at annual meetings, regardless of status, while the Declaratory Judgment process is pending.

During the June 29 meeting, at which Norbert Mondragon, Chairman of the Board presided, he, Moises Martinez, Treasurer, and Arnold Quintana, warden, were re-elected by an almost unanimous voice vote, despite the protestations of, among others, Joe Torres, who was marched out of the meeting for disrupting the proceedings by a town cop on orders from Mondragon, though, later, allowed to return.

Treasurer Moises Martinez reported on the audit findings of Burt Accounting, conforming to the Settlement’s financial mandate and noted, among other findings that under prior board members, the report found an absence of accounting systems until 2017, no log, no segregation re: permits for hiking, hunting access, no reports validated, no reconciliations, missing bank records, and missing balance sheets. Minutes from the prior 2018 meeting mentioned “requested receipts from Palemon Martinez and Erminio Martinez [former board members], both of whom were present who declined to provide any explanation or the location of any receipts.” (Paragraph 14 of the Settlement says, “All monies paid or other consideration given herein is without admission of liability.”)

3) Judge Chavez also decided to hear a motion for reconsideration (D-820-CV-2017351) in the case of El Salto de Agua vs. Erminio Martinez in which Judge Sarah Backus wrote and ordered back on June 14, 2018 that “The Defendant, Erminio Martinez, willfully, knowingly, and intentionally engaged in the un-licensed practice of law, prohibited by Statute, Section 36-2-28.1, and unequivocal case law (Chisolm v. Rueckhaus, 124 NM 255), in his representation of The Association, and other individuals. He is in violation of the terms and conditions of the Stipulated agreement in this case. The Plaintiff Association is entitled to its costs and attorney’s fees for its prosecution of this restraining order.” Martinez was ordered to pay the association approximately $6,000 in attorney fees plus to the Association, according to court documents, but has since allegedly pleaded poverty and moved for reconsideration.

Apparently, when Jack McCarthy, former Salto attorney resigned, due to health reasons, during the interim period and before current Cuddy-McCarthy Attorney Dan Castillo was appointed as Association attorney for the purposes of Declaratory Judgment, the former Magistrate Judge and Bail Bondsman, Erminio Martinez filed an “entry of appearance” as attorney for the business corporation, contrary to the law, according to Judge Backus’s ruling.

In addition to Jack McCarthy’s resignation, former Judge John Harris of Las Vegas was originally appointed “Special Master” but has since declined the opportunity. Judge Backus has resigned as District Judge and left town.


Under Chair Norbert Mondragon’s firm direction, the annual El Salto meeting ran rather smoothly, despite the “hangover” effects of a power struggle, perpetrated by the good old boys, who operated El Salto for years without member oversight. (The community is no stranger to controversy, given the sometimes “interlocking boards” of Acequia Madre del Rio Lucero y Arroyo Seco re: Abeyta and TVAA, the Arroyo Seco Community Center, and the Mutual Domestic Water Association.)

This story has legs…

According to the Association by-laws the shares cannot be transferred or sold without board approval. Researchers into El Salto de Agua Association say minutes from corporation records between 1971 and 2018 do not show board approval for sale or transfer of shares. “Rumors” of sales and transfers, if not approved by the board, could then devolve into individual lawsuits. If members do not accept the Special Master’s recommendations at the end of the Declaratory Judgment process, the youthful Judge Chavez will be the white-haired man behind the bench listening to great, great grandchildren discussing the legacy of El Salto de Agua Association.