Saturday, November 05, 2005


In today's New Mexican I wrote a retrospective of the career of former Santa Fe Municipal Judge Fran Gallegos, who resigned Thursday after felony charges of record tampering were filed against her.

As the paper's police and courts reporter for most of the '90s, I covered most those early controversies with Fran.

It didn't make our free Web site, so I'll publish it here.

For Jason Auslander's stories on the resignation, click HERE and HERE

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
November 5, 2005

Judge Frances Gallego’s nine-plus years as municipal judge were colorful, controversial and often contentious. Here’s a brief history of her public career.

*November 1994: Gallegos, running as a Green Party candidate, gets 45 percent of the vote in running against Democrat Richard “Buzzy” Padilla for Santa Fe County magistrate judge. Though she lost, her percentage was considered remarkable in the heavily Democratic County.

*March 5, 1996: Longtime Municipal Judge Tom Fiorina, under the cloud of Judicial Standards Commission investigations, loses by about 250 votes in a four-person race to Gallegos.

*May 1996: Less than two months after taking office, Gallegos asks the City Council for a raise. By the end of the year, the council agreed, increasing her salary from $39,500 to $49,500. By the time she leaves office, her salary is $65,000.

*June 1996: Gallegos causes controversy by appearing in a newspaper advertisement for a downtown restaurant. The ad, for the now defunct Fabio’s, showed a picture of the judge with a caption declaring the lobster at Fabio’s “judiciously wonderful.”

*August 1996: Gallegos starts a program that would become a trademark of her tenure in the city court — requiring convicted drunken drivers to wear bright pink baseball caps while performing court-ordered community service work in public places. The program later is expanded into a rainbow of cap colors: green for shoplifters, blue for domestic violence offenders and brown for animal ordinance violators.

*January 1997: During a long-running dispute with city officials over court funding, Gallegos filed notice of intent to sue then-Mayor Debbie Jaramillo, the city manager and several city councilors. By the next month she dropped the idea of suing the city.

*February 1997: Gallegos asks the city to buy her a .38-caliber stainless steel Smith & Wesson Ladysmith handgun for $369.99. The city declined.

*February 1997: Hundreds of Santa Fe residents who thought they’d taken care of traffic tickets — from up to nine years before — receive court summons to failure to appear in court. She acknowledged that many of those summoned were victims of bad record keeping by her predecessor, but Gallegos initially asked those summoned to supply proof that their tickets were already adjudicated. Many ended up paying court costs for the years-old tickets. After criticism, Gallegos relented and stopped the summonses. (For full story CLICK HERE)

*May 1997: Following a spate of unfavorable news coverage, Gallegos decides to restrict the hours that members of the news media can request court records to one hour a week. She quickly retreated from this plan.

*1998: Gallegos begins an alternative sentencing Drug Court program for drunken drivers and drug abusers. The program requires meditation and acupuncture.

*Jan. 10, 1999: A friend of Gallegos, who was married to a state legislator, was arrested on drunken driving charges shortly after midnight. The man called Gallegos at home. She immediately went to the county jail and ordered him released — contradicting her own policy of requiring DWI suspects to spend at least 12 hours in jail.

*Feb. 29, 2000: At a candidate forum where opponents attacked the “pink hat” program, Gallegos answered, “...sure I got carried away.” Then she made a little curtsy and said, “But I’m ‘Girl Judge.’ That’s what we do.”

*March 7, 2000: Gallegos is re-elected to a second three-year term. She defeated Fiorina and a third candidate by a healthy margin.

*August 13, 2000: Gallegos marries Michael Trujillo in a ceremony on the Plaza. The couple later divorce.

*April 2003: Gallegos is formally reprimanded by the state Supreme Court for not living within the city limits of Santa Fe for nearly two years. She said she moved to a home south of the city limits after she separated from Trujillo in the winter of 2000.

*June 2003: Following heated criticism Gallegos stops her practice of ordering traffic offenders to attend a for-profit driving-safety course taught by her chief administrator Mary Ann Caldwell. Gallegos allowed Caldwell to use the court’s facilities and property for the class. Caldwell reportedly made $30,000 during a five-year-period for the safety course. During the height of this controversy television investigative reporter Larry Barker chases Gallegos into a court restroom, where she stayed instead of talking to Barker. She finally emerged, pushing past Barker, telling him she had a meeting to attend.

*August 2003: Gallegos gets national attention for her New Agey alternative sentencing program, in which traffic offenders can learn tai chi and Japanese tea ceremonies.
*March 2, 2004: Gallegos reelected, defeating three opponents.

*July 1, 2004: State District Judge Steve Pfeffer rules that Gallegos had not been properly advising drunken driving defendants of their legal rights.

* March 2005: The state Supreme Court disciplines Gallegos for the Caldwell traffic classes, ordering Gallegos to take a course in judicial ethics.

*May 12: Gallegos confirms she is pondering a campaign for Santa Fe mayor in 2006.

*August 2 Gallegos decides she won’t run for mayor.

*August 7: The New Mexican reveals accusations that Gallegos systematically altered records of numerous DWI cases, often inflating jail sentences and the amount of time defendants spent behind bars.

*August 12: State Judicial Standards Commission recommends Gallegos be immediately suspended for “a myriad of ethical violations.” Besides the altered records, the commission said Gallegos failed to properly instruct defendants on their options for making pleas.

*August 24: The Supreme Court suspends Gallegos for 90 days while Judicial Standards conducts further investigations.

*August 30: The City Council appoints Sonya Carrasco-Trujillo, deputy chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Diane Denish as a temporary municipal judge.

*Sept. 1: Caldwell resigns.

*Sept. 13: Carrasco-Trujillo stops “pink hat” program.

*Oct. 11: The City Council votes not to pay Gallegos’ legal bills beyond the $20,000 initially approved.

*Nov. 3: Gallegos resigns after state police file three felony counts of tampering with public records.

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