Chief Justice Charles Daniels said Wednesday he won’t remove himself from any matters arising from criminal charges against a Las Cruces judge — and said the request that he do so contained “false allegations” and “factual misrepresentations.”
In a strongly worded order, Daniels took aim at allegations raised by special prosecutor Matt Chandler of Clovis, who wanted the Supreme Court justice out of the bribery and witness intimidation case against District Judge Mike Murphy.
Chandler filed a motion requesting Daniels recuse himself, citing a series of events and comments he said would bring Daniels’ impartiality into question.
One of those events was a confrontation between the two men at the Buffalo Thunder Resort near Santa Fe, where a statewide prosecutors’ meeting was being held.
In Wednesday’s order denying the motion, Daniels said:
• The suggestion that he or his wife, Randi McGinn, paid or made political contributions for his appointment to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2007 are “patently false” and “groundless gossip.”
• That he didn’t know who Murphy’s attorney was at the time he appointed District Judge J.C. Robinson of Silver City to oversee the grand jury that indicted Murphy.
• Richardson never contacted him about matters discussed on a tape recording made by District Judge Lisa Schultz of Las Cruces, in which a former Richardson campaign official said Richardson told her he would talk to “Chuck” about a pending complaint against Schultz with the Judicial Standards Commission. The campaign official said the governor explained the reference was to Justice Daniels.
Daniels said that, as long as he has known Richardson, the governor has always referred to him as ”Charlie.”
Richardson never talked to him about any case pending before any judicial body in the state; or any cases that might come before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
• Chandler’s account of a confrontation between the two men at Buffalo Thunder is “inaccurate” and attributes statements to Daniels that he never made.
Chandler maintained Daniels made a disparaging reference about the prosecution’s case against Murphy to the unknown party on the other end of the telephone conversation.
Daniels maintains Chandler was “eavesdropping” on a private conversation with a court staff member and that his comments were about his own state of mind and the scrutiny judges face.
Daniels said judges must keep open minds, but not empty ones and are allowed to think about legal issues that may come before them at a later time.
Daniels said he took the unusual step of writing an opinion — 101 pages including attachments — on his refusal to step aside because Chandler’s motion is based on “widely publicized mistatements about the true facts or misrepresentations of the applicable legal principles.”
Chandler said Wednesday that, “I filed the motion in good faith asking Justice Daniels to examine whether he should recuse himself and we respect Justice Daniels’ ruling.”
Daniels attached numerous exhibits to his order. One is an affidavit from a former member of Chandler’s staff, attorney Kirk Chavez, who stated that he and Chandler were trying to remove Judge Robinson as the grand jury judge in hopes “the Chief Justice would appoint a more conservative and hopefully Republican judge to preside over the matter.”
Chandler told the Albuquerque Journal on Wednesday that Chavez was not involved in the case except to do one research project.
He called the affidavit “absolutely false” and said both Robinson and the current judge on the Murphy case, retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Leslie Smith, had held hearings on Chavez’ allegations and had found them unreliable and irrelevant.
Chavez claims he and Chandler had “no facts whatsoever” to support the implication that Daniels and Murphy’s attorney, Michael Stout, had “colluded” in the appointment of Robinson as the judge overseeing the Murphy grand jury.
“However, we believed that the accusation of collusion alone would apply enough pressure on the Chief Justice to withdraw the appointment of Judge Robinson,” Chavez states in his affidavit, which was signed Oct. 17.
According to his affidavit, Chavez left the Clovis District Attorney’s office in early April a month before Murphy’s indictment.
Daniels said he is not going to remove himself from potentially hearing any issues in the case because of “hearsay speculations by one or more people that my wife or I bought my way onto the bench, including the rumors that we paid a million dollars to do so.”
He said he and his wife, a well-known trial lawyer, have contributed to causes, candidates and charities without asking for anything in return.
“We always strictly followed campaign contribution and reporting laws, making lawful contributions on the record with checks or credit cards and never exceeding contribution limits,” he wrote.
Daniels said the last contribution either he or his wife made to Richardson was to his presidential campaign in February 2007.
“At the time of that last contribution or at any time before it, I had no intention of applying for a position on the Court,” he wrote.
He changed his mind in September 2007, after the death of Justice Pamela Minzner, went through the judicial nominating process and was selected out of seven nominees by Richardson.
Chandler was appointed special prosecutor in the investigation in 2010 by then-District Attorney Susana Martinez of Las Cruces, after she was elected governor but before she took office.
Martinez and Chandler are Republicans. Daniels and Murphy are Democrats.
Murphy has pleaded not guilty to charges of felony bribery, criminal solicitation and intimidation of a witnesses. His trial is now set for February.