Thursday, December 29, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: THE YEAR OF THE JUDICIARY

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 29, 2005

There’s only three more days left of the Year of the Judiciary.

This, of course, is according to the Bill Richardson calendar. Remember last January, during the State of the State address, the governor proclaimed, “Some called 2003 the Year of the Governor. 2004 was the Year of the Legislature. Let’s make this the Year of the Judiciary.”

Richardson was right. 2005 was a remarkable year for the state’s judiciary. Every time you turned around, it seemed another New Mexico judge was in the news.

Richardson has declared 2006 to be the Year of the Child.

Pray for the children!

Here’s some highlights from the Year of the Judiciary:

* Feb. 11: State District Judge Edward Fitch of Socorro drives his government-owned mini van off an embankment on a southwest Santa Fe frontage road. Sheriff’s deputies found a large bottle of vodka in the van, which had been opened and partially consumed. Breath-alcohol tests showed the judge to have a blood alcohol count of more than twice the legal limit. Fitch later pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol and resigned from the bench.

* March 31: Gov. Bill Richardson appoints former state police officer Tommy Rodella -- the husband of a state Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-San Juan Pueblo -- as the new magistrate judge for Rio Arriba County. The Rio Grande Sun later reports the state police internal affairs division investigated Rodella more than 10 years ago, concluding that Rodella, as a police sergeant in Española, had pressured officers in his command to dismiss traffic citations to benefit his wife's political supporters. Richardson stands by Rodella.

* May 27: Las Cruces Magistrate Ruben Galvan resigns from the bench about a month after his first trial on charges of rape and bribery end in a hung jury. Galvan in August was acquitted in a second trial. Prosecutors said he promised a Las Cruces woman he would dismiss a pending battery charge against her husband if she would have sex with him. Galvan admitted to having sex in a parked car with the woman. The rape charge stemmed from the woman saying she’d told Galvan to stop several times. At the time of his resignation, Galvan was on probation for failing to disclose a sexual relationship with an assistant district attorney who had cases before him.

* June 22: The Supreme Court ordered a two-week suspension without pay for a Doña Ana County magistrate Susana Chaparro who interfered in a traffic case involving her adult son. The court noted in its unanimous decision said Chaparro has a “history of misconduct.”

* July 4: Judge Rodella drives from Española to Tierra Amarilla to personally spring a family acquaintance, who had been arrested on a DWI charge, out of jail. Richardson expresses his “disappointment” with Rodella and following a July 20 meeting between the two, Rodella resigned.

* July 5: The Supreme Court disciplines Columbus Municipal Judge Javier Lozano for his former business relationship with a company that contracted with the village to auction vehicles impounded by police. The J-Loz Auction Services got a 17 percent fee for conducting the sales, and Lozano was paid from those profits, according to the Supreme Court order. Lozano got a formal reprimand, a $500 fine, and supervised probation during the rest of his term, which expires in March.

* August 12: The Judicial Standards Commission recommends Santa Fe Municipal Judge Fran Gallegos be suspended for “a myriad of ethical violations.” Besides altering records, the commission says, Gallegos failed to properly instruct defendants concerning their options for making pleas. Later in the month the high court suspends Gallegos for 90 days while the commission conducts further investigations.

* Oct. 20: The Supreme Court reprimands Taos Magistrate Erminio Martinez for working part time for the Taos Pueblo Tribal Court. He was suspended for three days and fined $812, which is what he’d earned with the Pueblo. Full-time judges are prohibited from taking other jobs.

* Nov. 3: Judge Gallegos resigns after state police file three felony counts of tampering with public records against her. Her case is pending.

* Nov. 8: David Gregorio Valdez, who had been appointed by Richardson to take Rodella’s place as Rio Arriba magistrate, withdraws, admitting he failed to disclose to the governor’s staff that he’d done jail time in the early 1980s for not paying child support. So far, Richardson has yet to fill the vacancy.

* Dec. 14: Gallup Magistrate Rhoda Hunt resigned and promised never to run for or hold any judicial office in an agreement filed with the state Supreme Court. This followed an FBI investigation in which Hunt allegedly admitted to “numerous criminal and ethical violations” including taking bribes in exchange for favorable rulings; improperly taking free legal services and a vehicle from lawyers who appeared before her; taking $2,000 to marry an already-married Palestinian man so he could avoid deportation; and using an alias and a fraudulent social security number on a loan application and defaulting on the loan.


*Dec. 15: Santa Fe District Judge Daniel Sanchez signs a restraining order from a woman who claims comedian David Letterman is harassing her in secret code on his late-night talk show. When this hits the news, Sanchez gets more laughs than Letterman has in years. (Sanchez voided the restraining order this week.)

* Dec. 21: Another Las Cruces judge, state district Judge Larry Ramirez was put on six months supervised probation and got a formal reprimand for intervening in a case against his adult son, who was cited for drinking in a city park. Before the reprimand, Ramirez attended an ethics course for judges and reimbursed the Judicial Standards Commission for $1,500 in costs.

Blog on Break

I'm on vacation this week and so is this blog. Don't worry, I'll be back Friday night with the Santa Fe Opry playlist and b...