Legal Ethics

Prosecutor Claims He Overheard Top Judge's Coffee Conversation, Seeks to Ban Him from Bribe Appeal

A special prosecutor in a judicial bribery case is seeking to disqualify New Mexico Chief Justice Charles Daniels from an appeal partly because of an overheard phone conversation at Starbucks.

Special prosecutor Matt Chandler claims in his motion that he heard Daniels at the coffee shop trivializing allegations in Chandler’s case against Las Cruces Judge Michael Murphy, originally accused in two alleged bribery incidents, report the Las Cruces Sun-News, the Albuquerque Journal (sub. req.) and the Associated Press.

In the more high-profile case, Murphy was accused of advising a lawyer seeking a judicial appointment to forward money to a campaign official to former Gov. Bill Richardson. Those charges have been dismissed without prejudice; Richardson has called suggestions of a pay-to-play system “outrageous and defamatory.” An attempted bribery charge pending in the second case alleges Murphy told a fellow judge she could get a lighter caseload and possibly obtain help in an ethics probe if she cast the right vote for chief judge in the local district.

Chandler says he and Daniels were attending a New Mexico District Attorneys Association meeting at a resort and casino in July when he overheard Daniels’ cellphone conversation at the Starbucks denigrating the case against Murphy, the stories say. According to Chandler, Daniels was discussing “dead-on” details of Murphy’s arrest that day that were unknown even to Chandler. Daniels reportedly said, “What’s next, I mean are they going to go after us for putting on the left shoe before putting on the right one?”

Chandler says Daniels should be disqualified from hearing his appeal of a dismissed misdemeanor ethics charge against Murphy and any future matters involving the district judge. In addition, Chandler:

• Claims Daniels appointed a judge he considered favorable to Murphy’s case to preside over grand jury matters.

• Cites a lower court judge’s allegation that Daniels was appointed because of a $1 million campaign contribution by his wife.

Daniels said he’ll respond to the allegations in judicial proceedings, the Associated Press says. He has previously denied that he was appointed because of a campaign contribution.

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