By Mike Linn
Police 1, Judge Fred Arnold 0.
Portales officers appealing fines issued by the city’s municipal judge scored a victory in court on Monday.
Ninth Judicial District Judge Robert Brack found patrolman Anthony Sanford not guilty of contempt of court and overturned a $100 fine that Arnold levied on the officer who missed a court date in December. Sanford had been scheduled to testify in a traffic case.
“We were pleased today,” Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said after the hearing. “We’ve wanted for a long time to have a mediation with the judge whereas a person independently heard both arguments and helped us come to a resolution — and basically that’s what happened today.”
Berry said in December that Sanford filled out a dismissal for the case and gave it to his supervisor, Sgt. Fred Hamner. Hamner then forwarded the dismissal to the department’s records clerk who didn’t file it because she thought it needed a supervisor’s signature; as a consequence the dismissal was a day late, but since Sanford was unaware of the filing blunder he never showed up to Arnold’s court.
Berry described the incident as “paperwork snafus,” and said fines are typically not levied for such incidents.
Arnold, who was not working in Municipal Court on Monday, did not return phone calls to his home to comment on the judge’s ruling. He has repeatedly declined comment on the situation.
“I just didn’t find that this was anything other than — at worst — negligence on the part of the officer at not following up and didn’t think it rose to the level of contempt,” Brack said of his ruling.
“As for what other judges do or what is appropriate I can’t say, but in my six-plus years of being a judge I don’t think I’ve ever found an officer in contempt, so in my personal experience it is a very rare thing. Judges need to use the power sparingly and with some caution.”
The combative relationship between Arnold and the police department began following fines he assessed last fall upon two other officers, both of which are also appealing in district court this summer.
Since those contempt charges, Portales police have opted to file all cases in Magistrate Court, where Sanford was attempting to transfer the traffic situation in December.
Magistrate Court is typically used for state and county police filings.