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Another corruption case: Judge in southern NM allegedly says you gotta pay to get a seat on the court

By   /   May 16, 2011  /   No Comments

The news came down late last Friday so you may have missed it, but the speculation that a sitting judge in southern New Mexico was about to face “pay to play” corruption charges is no longer just speculation.

A grand jury came back Friday evening (May 13) with four charges against State District Court Judge Michael T. Murphy: two counts of bribery, one count of criminal solicitation and one count of bribery, intimidation or retaliation of a witness. If convicted, Murphy faces up to 10 years in prison.

Judge Michael T. Murphy

But what’s making the case especially juicy is the release of a supplemental report in which a number of explosive charges are made, including a fellow judge reportedly telling investigators that Murphy told him “that if a person wanted to be selected for a judge position by Governor [Bill] Richardson, that person needed to make a significant donation.” Murphy reportedly said he had given $4,000 to Richardson.

Murphy’s lawyer says the judge is innocent of all charges and “will be vindicated of all charges in due course” but the allegations are devastating and — if true — are another example of the corruption New Mexico is infamous for.

Blogger Heath Haussamen managed to obtain an 11-page supplemental report written by investigator Dan Blair. You can click here to read the entire thing, as well as the the formal grand jury indictment.

The supplemental report makes for fascinating — if not mortifying — reading, including such tidbits as:

  • the case started back in 2007 when Murphy allegedly told a Las Cruces attorney who was interested in a judgeship position, “that she should write a check to the Democratic party every week in whatever amount she could afford”
  • the attorney then related the story to Third District Court Judge Lisa Schultz who was alarmed and spoke to retired Court of Appeals Judge Rudy Apodaca, who according to the report, “said that as terrible as it sounded, the system did in fact work in the manner described by Judge Murphy”
  • In August of 2010, Judge Schultz secretly recorded a meeting she had with Murphy in which Murphy allegedly says that “I just wrote him [Richardson apppointee Judge Manuel Arrieta] a check for 300 bucks. I hope you’ll do the same.”
  • Edgar Lopez, an active member of the Democratic party, tells investigators that earlier in Murphy’s pursuit of a judgeship, Murphy had been turned down for an appointment. From the report: “Lopez said that Murphy did not come to him before the appointment and ‘did not pay Edgar homage’ and Jim T. Martin got the appointment instead.” After being turned down, Lopez says in the report that Murphy returned to Lopez, saying “I;m here to do whatever I need to do.”
  • After requesting a polygraph test in early February of this year, Murphy has not submitted to the test and has not talked to investigators since retaining a criminal defense attorney
  • A staff attorney for the Third Judicial District Courts told investigators in April “that Judge Murphy said he gave money every month in a form of a check or checks to influence his appointment process” and that “Judge Murphy also stated, ‘If I go down for this, I’m not going alone. I’m taking someone with me.’ “
  • In March, investigators spoke to retired District Judge Steven Bridgforth, formerly of the Third Judicial District Court, who related the story of Murphy allegedly saying that if a person wanted a judge’s position, he or she would have to make “a signficiant donation” to Richardson and that Murphy himself had donated $4,000.
  • When Bridgforth objected, he says Murphy replied by saying, “Oh, [you're] old fashion[ed]. That’s how business is done now[a]days.”
  • Judge Bridgforth also says in the report that he was approached in 2010 by Edgar Lopez, who asked Bridgforth to retire before the end of the year “to allow Governor Richardson to appoint Larry Picket[t] (a lawyer in Las Cruces) as his replacement.”

The supplemental report has been the talk of political circles across the state. Gov. Susana Martinez weighed in on the case Monday (May 16). You can click here to watch her frank comments.

The Murphy case is being handled by special prosecutor Matt Chandler, who received the case when Martinez — who was then the district attorney in Doña Ana County — because prosecutors do not normally investigate judges who hear their cases.

Chandler — a Republican — is the D.A. in the state’s Ninth Judicial District and ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General last November.

Update: The state Supreme Court in a 4-1 decision suspended Murphy without pay late Monday. Click here for details.

Click here to LEARN HOW TO STEAL OUR STUFF!

Since 2010, Rob Nikolewski has covered New Mexico politics and investigated fraud, waste and abuse in government. He also writes an opinion column in the Sunday editions of the Santa Fe New Mexican. Rob joined New Mexico Watchdog after 20 years in television as a sports anchor and reporter. He anchored at MSNBC, New York City, Boston, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Reno and Boise, winning three regional Emmy awards along the way. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, a master's in public administration from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and a bachelor's degree in journalism from Trinity University in San Antonio.

  • Simon

    pay to play is alive and well in our courts throughout the state. the price of pay to play demands judicial alliance to richardson and his cronies’ causes – most of which include stealing and controlling natural resources. this includes judges ruling contrary to the law and the facts whenever richardson’s cartel is in the court room. paul fish a modrall lawyer runs our courts along with a network of lawyers all employed by the largest wealthiest lawfirms. you cannot win against big money and big politics in our courts. whenever Paul Fish steps into a courtroom, the paid to play judge rules in his or his cartel buddies’ favor. Ted Baca plays; Valerie Huling plays; Theresa Baca plays; Sandra Clinton plays; Louis McDonald plays; Jim Martin plays. federal judges play. the judicial standards commission ignores complaints against players, the ethics committee supposedly overseeing lawyers ignores complaints against players. meanwhile anyone who tries to blow the whistle is destroyed much like murphy stated he would destroy the honest judge who blew the whistle. justice is whatever the rich and powerful say it is.