NM judge booked in political bribe scandal

AP News
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Posted: May 20, 2011 4:35 PM
NM judge booked in political bribe scandal

A New Mexico judge charged with bribery in a scandal tied to former Gov. Bill Richardson pleaded not guilty Friday, then was booked, fingerprinted and ordered to hand over his passport.

State District Judge Michael Murphy is accused of telling a potential judicial candidate that if she wanted a seat on the bench she needed to donate to the Democratic Party through a political activist linked to Richardson.

Allegations in a special prosecutor's report imply the practice was common in the district during Richardson's time in office and that Edgar Lopez of Las Cruces delivered the payments to the former governor. Special prosecutor Matt Chandler has said the investigation is ongoing.

Richardson called the accusations "outrageous and defamatory" and said the 113 judges selected while he was governor were chosen solely on merit. For his part, Murphy, who was not jailed, declined comment after the hearing, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. Lopez has not returned calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. The judicial candidate Beverly Singleman also has not responded to calls from the AP.

Murphy on Friday was read his rights, booked, fingerprinted and ordered to post a $10,000 bail during his arraignment on felony bribery and intimidation charges. But retired federal Magistrate Leslie Smith denied the prosecution's request that Murphy sign a warrant and be arrested.

Murphy's attorney Michael Stout said in court that a warrant was unnecessary.

"He (Murphy) is here, he will be here. He will be here fighting these charges vigorously until the end," the Albuquerque Journal quoted Stout as saying. "He's not going to go slinking into the night."

Murphy posted bail in a public area near the court clerk's office, but was fingerprinted in a secure area.

The specific charges against Murphy include demanding or receiving a bribe; bribery of a public officer or employee; bribing, intimidating or retaliating against a witness; and criminal solicitation _ all felonies.

Murphy is the only person charged in the bribery case, although Chandler, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez before she took office, has said the investigation is ongoing and state police are assisting.

Meantime, a second judge who was questioned in the probe has been removed from criminal cases in the 3rd Judicial District to ensure against any perceptions of conflict of interest.

District Attorney Amy Orlando of Las Cruces said she had been informed that Judge Tim Martin was being removed from the cases because observers might wonder whether Martin made rulings favorable to prosecutors in pending criminal cases "to gain favor" with prosecutors, "or rule against us because he's upset with us," according to the Albuquerque Journal.