Legal Ethics

NM Judge to Retire; Disciplinary Case Accused Her of Failing to Follow Rules in Multiple Matters

A New Mexico judge who formerly chaired the state Probate Judge’s Commission has agreed to step down and retire rather than face disciplinary action for her alleged mishandling of cases.

Las Cruces Magistrate Court Judge Olivia Nevarez Garcia, 69, who is married to the state higher education secretary, will take permanent retirement at the end of the year, reports the Las Cruces Sun-News. A state supreme court order revealing the plan was unsealed yesterday, the newspaper says.

Garcia, who did not admit any wrongdoing, was accused of violating ethics rules and making clear legal errors in a number of cases.

Among the alleged mistakes she made:

• Speaking ex parte with a prosecutor and holding a hearing without a defendant’s attorney being present.

• Deciding a drunken driving case without giving the state and police a chance to be heard.

• Failing to follow state landlord-tenant law concerning the amount of notice required before a tenant vacates a property and making “disparaging remarks” about a litigant’s hearing loss.

In a written statement, Garcia said she had done nothing wrong but felt that it would have been a waste of time and money to defend the ethics case at this point in her career. She was a probate judge for 13 years and was appointed to the magistrate’s bench by the governor in 2005, where she was the county’s only woman judge.

“Be assured litigation of the facts would have proven that my constituents have no reason to doubt I served them professionally and well during my tenure as a judge,” she wrote. “However, I have been in the process of retiring for the past six months and, after much consideration, determined that entering the stipulation was the best way to tie up loose ends so I can get on with my retirement as planned.”

The Judicial Standards Commission unanimously agreed earlier this month to allow Garcia to retire and conclude the ethics case.

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