Federal magistrate judge isn't reappointed amid probe into alleged abusive environment

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A federal magistrate judge in New Mexico won’t be serving another term amid a probe into allegations that she created an abusive and hostile work environment.

Federal judges voted against the reappointment of U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Garza before completion of the probe, according to a Sept. 14 order posted by the judicial council of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Denver.

A special committee appointed to investigate spoke with every full-time employee who had every worked for Garza. Nearly all the witnesses described similar patterns of conduct.

According to the order, those patterns included “unpredictable and hypercritical outbursts; manipulation of staff to undermine judges and employees; frequent threats of termination or actual terminations; and derogatory and egregious statements about her own staff, other court employees and judges.”

The council had opened the probe after receiving complaints from two former law clerks and two anonymous people who had also worked for Garza.

Garza had denied the allegations but indicated that she was willing to take appropriate corrective action.

Garza has served 16 years as a magistrate judge. Because she no longer has the job, the council concluded the misconduct proceedings. But the council said it was important to identify potential institutional issues related to the matter.

The order identified two conditions that allowed the apparent misconduct to continue: a lack of awareness about what constitutes abusive conduct or a hostile work environment and a widespread fear of retaliation.

Many employees said they relied on Garza’s references to obtain other positions, and her recommendations had helped advance their careers.

“The judiciary, including this circuit, has made progress in the area of workplace conduct, but it is clear that there is more work to do,” the order said. “The judicial council will work with the 10th Circuit’s Workplace Conduct Committee to determine what other measures should be taken to make this circuit an exemplary place to work.”

Hat tip to Reuters and Law.com, which had coverage of the order.

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