June 20, 2011
The Judge Of Comedy
The New Mexico Supreme Court suspended a district court judge for 60 days without pay and ordered a $6,000 fine as a result of his "untimely recusal after initiating a romantic relationship with an assistant public defender who had cases before him and making dishonest statements from the bench concerning his reasons for recusing."
The judge had performed stand-up comedy and thought that the public defender "shared his interest in comedy and humor." He invited her to lunch and they "just clicked." He gave her a book entitled, "The One-Hour Orgasm" because he shared the same name with the author. He also gifted her a pair of purple latex gloves.
The following day, a Saturday, the assistant public defender called Judge S. and offered to cook a meal for him at his house. Judge S. suggested that they instead attend a concert in Santa Fe. At the concert, the assistant public defender drank two glasses of wine; Judge S. did not drink any alcoholic beverages. During the drive back to Albuquerque, the assistant public defender asked Judge S. if he thought he could be fair and impartial in her cases, and he replied that he did not think he could be and would recuse from her cases. Believing that Judge S. would recuse on all her cases, the assistant public defender then called her supervisor, leaving a phone message regarding the Judge’s planned recusal from her cases. Upon returning to Albuquerque, they stopped at the Albuquerque Press Club. They then drove to the assistant public defender’s apartment, where Judge S. parked his car before they walked to a local bar. After spending about an hour and a half at the bar, an acquaintance of Judge S. gave them a ride back to the assistant public defender’s apartment. With her permission, Judge S. kissed the assistant public defender goodnight and left. He admitted that he had begun a personal relationship with the assistant public defender, although he was not sure of its future. Judge S. spoke to her the following day about the time they had spent together on Friday and Saturday.
On Monday, July 13, 2009, Judge S. called his office to report that he was sick and asked his administrative assistant to move his cases scheduled for that day to the following day. He could not remember which of the assistant public defender’s cases were scheduled for that day. He did not, however, tell his assistant that he would be recusing from the assistant public defender’s cases or ask his assistant to prepare notices of recusal. In the evening, he met with the assistant public defender at a nearby park, told her he intended to recuse from her cases, and they discussed the effects of recusal on her work, including her reassignment to a different trial team.
On the day following the sick day, the assistant public defender had two matters before the judge. Her supervisor appeared in one matter; the assistant in the other. The judge heard the assistant's matter and released her client, although the court concluded that there was no adverse impact on the judge's actions. The judge then recused himself from the two cases without mentioning the relationship, although he later confirmed the true reason for the recusal. (Mike Frisch)
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