(26)

Chief justice says he didn’t buy his job

N.M. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels

A statement in a law enforcement report might imply that the chief justice of the N.M. Supreme Court may have paid a bribe in exchange for his judgeship, but Charles W. Daniels says he did no such thing.

“I did not buy this position,” Daniels told NMPolitics.net. “No one ever asked me to, and I never would have entertained the idea.”

The implication about Daniels comes from a statement attributed to Third Judicial District Judge Mike Murphy, who was indicted earlier this month on bribery charges stemming from allegations of widespread judicial bribery. Murphy was allegedly talking with Norm Osborn, the Third Judicial District Court’s staff attorney, when he said this:

“Judge Murphy also stated that if he was guilty of buying a judgeship, then what does that make Chief Justice (Charlie) Daniels.”

The statement is included in a public incident report detailing the allegations against Murphy. There’s no context for the statement or any other clues about what Murphy might believe Daniels did.

While cautioning that it would be inappropriate for him to comment on the case against Murphy because he has a role in reviewing the judicial process – he’s already twice appointed judges to oversee the case – Daniels rejected any notion that he did or would pay a bribe for a judicial appointment.

“I don’t know who said what in all these multiple hearsay layers of he-said, she-said,” Daniels told NMPolitics.net. “But I do know if anybody claims I bought my position, they don’t know what they’re talking about, they don’t know my qualifications for this job, and they certainly don’t know my character.”


Advertisement

Law enforcement reports allege that Murphy said he paid money in exchange for his appointment from former Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006, and that he told another potential judicial applicant that she had to do the same. The money allegedly went to Las Cruces politico Edgar Lopez, who Murphy said gave it to Richardson. It’s worth noting that Murphy is charged with soliciting a bribe from the potential applicant but not with paying a bribe for his position.

Though Murphy allegedly said he gave $4,000 to Richardson in exchange for his appointment, NMPolitics.net has been able to locate only $410 in campaign contributions from Murphy and his wife.

Witness statements aren’t clear about whether Murphy’s alleged bribe was a campaign contribution or simply a cash payment.

No one besides Murphy has been charged or received notice that they may be indicted, but the investigation is ongoing. The Albuquerque Journal quoted special prosecutor Matt Chandler last week as saying that the “boundaries” of the investigation “have expanded,” but he wouldn’t explain how.

Richardson appointed Daniels in 2007 after Daniels was among a handful of candidates recommended by a bipartisan nominating commission. Daniels has been a lawyer for 38 years in the Albuquerque area and has taught at the University of New Mexico School of Law.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Daniels gave $200 to Richardson’s gubernatorial re-election campaign in 2006. His wife, attorney Randi McGinn, gave $3,000 to Richardson in 2002 and $5,000 to Richardson in 2006.

Update, 10:15 a.m.

McGinn also gave $2,300 to Richardson’s presidential campaign in February 2007, according to OpenSecrets.org.

A prior version of this article incorrectly stated that Murphy is charged with paying a bribe for his position.

Tagged as: , , , , ,

26 comments so far. Scroll down to submit your own comment.

  1. He didn’t have to buy his job…his wife bought it for him. What powerful ABQ trial lawyer wouldn’t want to have their spouse as a justice of the NM Supreme Court. Let alone the Chief Justice. Over $10 grand to various Richardson campaigns with the largest contribution of $5000 in 2006 coming months before he’s placed on the bench by Big Bill in 2007. Like the website says…Follow the Money.

    This isn’t tabloid style smearing by Heath, it’s an honest effort to point out that during the Richardson years anything could be paid for at a price. And with judgeships, the scales of justice tilted heavier to those that coughed up the most cash.

  2. I second the sentiments expressed by ebo and jwboyd. Both Justice Daniels and his wife are models of ethical integrity in a profession that could always use more. NM is proud to have them, and better for it. They are respected pillars of our community, and their legacy of striving for justice will long outlive any trivial and unfounded comments like the one at issue.

  3. Dear Dissappointed Reader, Cranky, and Wedum59,

    Now you are attacking Heath haussaman’s reporting???? The fact is, this isn’t about poor reporting, this is about you all being defensive and wanting to attack someone for reporting it like it is or attack the republican party to deflect off of the real issue at hand which is pervasive judicial corruption throughout the state. Read the court paperwork. Murphy’s words have not been taken out of context or misquoted. There’s also the recording.

  4. I think that Cranky is probably right, it was a facetious remark on the part of Judge Murphy. It reminds me of the facetious remark made by congressman Harry Teague back in 2002 or so, misquoted ad nauseum by Republicans, that he would give up all his guns “as long as they gave me the keys to the [Hobbs] armory.” The qualifier was always omitted.

  5. The only reason Justice Daniels is sitting on the bench is to serve the public. It is an incredible burden and a thankless undertaking to sit on the NMSC. We should be all grateful someone of Justice Daniels’ caliber is willing to do it. The alleged comment by Judge Murphy was obviously facetious. Heath, this is a piece of crap. You owe it to Justice Daniels to do some follow ups and to get the story right.

  6. @northernlight When I see a number of unfamiliar commenters showing up so quickly, it appears the word got out to voice support for Daniels. Perhaps it was purely organic but I suspect it was not. That doesn’t mean he’s not held in high regard by many or that he did anything wrong. I’m not splitting hairs on what defines the process. Politics are part of the process.

  7. I have read this blog for a long time and was always impressed with the journalistic integrity I found here, until now. This article is little more than slanderous gossip-mongering. It is very disappointing to see this blog engage in this kind of behavior.

  8. Stever and Dr. J, I agree with both of your posts. You both hit it on the nail.

    I would also like to make a correction to my previous post. The statement that was recorded should read: ” Yeah, but that’s over with now because we’re getting a new Governor”

    Again, I ask why wasn’t Murphy removed from the bench prior to the the indictment hearing when the Judicial standards commission recommended this to the supreme court???????????

    I would also like to ask why Judge Petra Maes didn’t recuse herself when the decision to keep him on the bench was made but after all of this came out in the hearing, she finally recused herself????????
    Judge Maes clearly has known about this since that luncheon back in 2009.
    Will there be a conseqence for Judge Maes for not recusing herself at the time that the decision was made against the Judicial standards commission recommendation????????????

    It would be very interesting to know the exact date that Governor Martinez appointed the 6 lay people to the Judicial standards commission????? Were they involved in the decision to recommend that Murphy be removed from the bench? Interestingly, there are 11 people on the judicial standards commission and decisions are based on the majority vote.
    So, did the supreme court look at their recommendation and just figure that it must have been the 6 new appointees that made this decision and in turn the Supreme court denied the recommendation????
    Why was Petra Maes involved in the decision??? What is Judge Daniels doing about her failure to recuse?????

  9. I think it amusing that many posters here seem to be so naive as to think salary paid for a cushy, almost job for life in government, like the Supreme Court Justices, is all there is. So some lawyer leaves a big law firm making 7 figures to take on this “lowly” “public servant” type job and he is a hero? Please, people like this count raw political power as worth more than money (although money seems to follow these jobs outside the salary for many years after), that is why they call them politicians and why they work so hard to get these jobs. These people are not “volunteers” or “public servants” in any regard. And this job is so powerful, making decisions no one can alter or question, long term almost guaranteed for life, and so difficult to remove from office that it has to be the ultimate for a lawyer to covet. I doubt any lawyer has “sacrificed” anything at all to take these jobs, they profit handsomely and their career is far better advanced than being a run-of-the-mill lawyer before the bar.

  10. @ stever: there’s no need for a concerted effort to obtain support for Daniels. The man has done so much for justice in NM, both in private practice and on the Supreme Court, that praise for him and his work, and defense in a situation of such ridiculous accusations as these, come naturally to anyone who has known him. Daniels no more bought his seat than he bought his status as one of the best attorneys in the state.

    The process of choosing judges in NM is not flawed itself; it’s the state’s politics overall that are the problem. And that’s what’s going on here, especially when it comes to dragging Daniels in: it’s dirty politics pure and simple. That will become clear to all soon enough, just as it is already clear without a moment’s reflection to all who have worked alongside him or argued against or before him.

  11. It’s only Bipartisan on paper.

    Dave, that “paper” is the New Mexico Constitution; I know it’s a lot of words, but read the excellent post by truthcounts. It’s easily the best brief explanation of judicial nominating commissions in the state of New Mexico, and we worked very hard for many years to ensure that they were not only legitimately bipartisan, but more difficult than any other in the country to circumvent.

    Of course, then we screwed the whole thing up by having a partisan election stuck in the whole process, but prior to that point…

  12. While its impressive to read the glowing tributes to Daniels posted here, its clear there was a concerted effort to generate them. As such its hard to give them full consideration. All I can say with conviction is that the process is flawed, and in a state with a less than clean history, there’s room for mistrust, more than there should be. Lots of shame to go around. Fix it and clean it up.

  13. I have no idea about the veracity of any allegations against Justice Daniels, although considering the esteem he was held in by most of the legal community, I doubt he would have had to buy an appointment to the Supreme Court.

    However, let’s be clear about something: yes, Charles Daniels gave up a lucrative legal career to serve on the Supreme Court. However, you must remember that he’s married to Randi McGinn, one of the most financially successful attorneys in this state. So, I don’t think his financial situation has suffered any by virtue of being on the Court.

  14. I would like to point a few things out:

    - In reading the article in the LCSN- The attorneys fighting over the summons/arrest article.
    It should be noted that Judge Robinson was a friend of Murphy’s and upon hearing about the possible indictment, Stout, Murphy’s attorney, called the court to reqiuest a judge from Silver City. This was opposed by the prosecuter and Chandler requested 10 days to determine who the judge should be. Within 1 day Judge Daniels appointed Judge Robinson from Silver city to preside over this case.

    -Notice how judge Daniels subscribes to that he-said, she-said mentality/rhetoric when there is tangible evidence (A recording) of Murphy stating: “Yeah, that’s over with now because there’s going to be a new judge” in conjunction with testimony from other Democrats.

    -The statement that there were a handful of judges recommended by a Bipartisan Judicial nominating committee is a joke in this state. It’s only Bipartisan on paper.

    -Probably the most significant thing that resonates in my mind is the fact that our chief judge Daniels along with the other supreme court judges did not remove Murphy from the bench even after the judicial standards commission recommended that as a disciplinary action, prior to the indictment hearing. That says it all.

  15. First and foremost, no credible argument can be made that any unqualified lawyer has purchased a judicial position given how our judicial selection system works. There certainly is no credible basis to pose this question to the Chief Justice. None. At some point, serious questions about why this is being raised will need to be raised and resolved. For now, lets get the truth out.

    The attempted connection between contributions and appointment ignores the actual facts regarding how Judges are vetted, recommended, appointed, elected and retained in New Mexico. Judges in our system are appointed after they are recommended by a bi-partisan Judicial Selection Commission. The Commission is comprised of lawyers and nonlawyers appointed by the Governor, the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the Speaker of the House, the President Pro Tem and the President of the State Bar. The law requires that the Commission have an equal number of Republicans and Democrats. The Commission interviews each applicant and makes a determination as to which of the applicants are qualified for the job. Each applicant appears before the Commission to answer questions in a forum that is open to the public. They then stand for election. They then stand for scrutiny by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. There are, therefore, multiple levels of checks and scrutiny. All of this is being ignored. However, lawyers, judges and former district attorneys like our Governor owe it to the Citizens of New Mexico to speak the truth.

    Prior to his appointment and election, Chief Justice Daniels was one of the most well respected lawyers and professors in the United States. His career began with his graduating first in his law school class and continued with his litigation of some of the most significant legal cases in New Mexico’s short history. His law school courses were highly sought after and many young lawyers looked to him as the model upon which they would hope to build a career. The fact that this recent blunt and baseless attack on the Judiciary has required that our Chief Justice answer such an absurd question should give us all great concern.

    Like many other judges who have been selected , the Chief Justice faced no opposition. LIke many other qualified, elected and retained judges, the Chief Justice took a substantial pay cut to enter this public service. The same would be true for countless other private citizens who take the very important step of entering public service. The current blunt and baseless attack on the Judiciary creates a very dangerous path. Where does this end? Will each and every State, City and County employee who dared give a dollar to a political candidate be accused of purchasing their right to serve the citizenry . Will District Attorney Chandler sharpen his indictment pen in each and every one of these public employees direction? Will Governor Martinez pledge to appoint no one who has ever donated to her campaign. Will she ask for the resignation of those who she has appointed and who can be found to have given her a dollar? Of course, none of that should happen and it will not happen if people start speaking the truth.

  16. I have known Charlie Daniels for forty years. There is no one who better exemplifies commitment to honor and justice. New Mexico’s courts and communities are lucky he is on the Supreme Court and have benefited and will continue to benefit from his legal abilities, wisdom and judgment. Charlie’s qualifications for the job were and are superior. The best evidence is that no one — not a democrat in the primary and not a republican in the general election — ran against him when he had to run for retention to that judicial seat. No one who knows Charlie Daniels could believe any of this innuendo.

  17. Apparently, you are ignorant of the begging that occurred to get Justice Daniels to give up an extremely successful career in the law to hold one of these honored positions. He is a legendary former professor from our top law school, and a scholar and gentleman with only the highest character. At times, there seem to be few institutions or people worthy of praise and respect. Justice Daniels is unquestionably worthy of both. It is hard enough to do the job he is called upon to do, without having to take this kind of smearing from people who have done nothing to inform themselves of his character and qualifications. Mindless, ignorant negativity is destroying the things we were taught as children to believe in, count on, that we need in America. This article convinces people with superior talents who are considering important positions like the Supreme Court to stay away because if you can question the ethics and motivations of Chief Justice Daniels, no one is safe. Do your homework. This type of sloppy – tabloid mentality masked as journalism is the reason I left journalism and went into the law. Thank you Chief Justice for being willing to do this hard job. We need you.

  18. Hundreds of lawyers and other citizens donated a thousand or more dollars to the Richardson campaign, and to the Suzanna Martinez campaign, and do not expect an appointment or special privilege of any sort from the Governor. I am a lawyer who donated a large amount for me to the Richardson campaigns–way more than Chief Justice Daniels, and expected and received nothing in return. My money was intended to support a Governor who focused on helping the “little people”–money wasted in my view, but if one seeks better leaders, donations are important.

    That some donors are singled out and appointed to judgeships or other positions means nothing without evidence of impropriety. And not one piece of evidence is mentioned in this gossip-based article to link CJ Daniels to any wrongdoing. This opinion piece–hardly a journalistic investigation, fails to suggest that publicly financed elections is the only alternative to the privately paid election system dominate everywhere in the US. Ideas like free tv and radio time for political races, as a condition of obtaining a license to operate on the supposedly public-owned airwaves, is not even a topic of discussion by bloviators. If one opposes privately financed elections, why not write about alternative methods of funding?

    Chief Justice Daniels’ integrity remains solid among all who know him.

  19. Before going on the bench, Justice Daniels was known to be one of the finest, highly skilled, and successful attorneys that New Mexico has ever produced. His wife Randi, is perhaps the best and brightest attorney in the Western United States, if not the entire county.Justice Daniels gave up a 7 figure practice, to participate in public service, and at a substantial loss of pay, and personal freedom. This story is ridiculous, and verges on the outrageous.
    So Justice Daniels contributed a nominal sum of money to a political campaign? I fail to see how this suggests anything of substance about his ethics, integrity or honesty. Most private citizens donate money to political causes they support. Rather than being unethical, it’s the American Way. This is a smear campaign, of the very worst kind, and is a vicious insult to an outstanding, hard-working, jurist, and his family. Shameful.

  20. Lightening Strikes!! I agree with Dr. J!!!

    Just today I read that the Highest Court in the Land of Enchantment ok’d the “temporary” removal of completely legally owned guns in open view during traffic stops or checkpoints. Which, as I have always understood, is the ONLY legal way you can carry a firearm in this state, absent owning a concealed carry permit or having them locked up and out of reach. Even if you are demonstrating NO threatening or illegal behavior, Officer Keystone can now go all Lt. Jim Dangle on your hiney, no excuses, no recourse.

    Of course, if you are carrying a gun in your car there MUST be crime in there SOMEWHERE we can uncover, right? Maybe there is something to this circumstantial evidence thing when it comes to judges bribing their way onto the bench…

  21. I am a sitting judge, and will tell you a little about the character of the man smeared by the baseless innuendo contained in this article. (I should say that, as a sitting judge, I would ordinarily refrain from making any such comments, but the allegations are an outright attack on the integrity of the judiciary and every sitting judge, and I am therefore ethically compelled to speak out.)

    Six years ago, while a lawyer with 30 plus years of experience, Justice Daniels taught a class on evidence to all of the sitting and retired judges in the state. I was a bright-eyed and naive recent appointee to the bench (didn’t buy my position either; in fact, I took a pay cut to serve the public). Justice Daniels was (and remains) my role model for demeanor and temperament, and is unequaled in his intelligence and legal acumen. But I can still recall the awe I felt when I noticed that, when he spoke to this huge room filled with judges from around the state, including our Court of Appeals and NM Supreme Court, all of my fellow judges were taking notes. I happened to be sitting next to the late Justice Pamela Minzner and saw that like me, and the rest of the room, she was frantically writing down everything that Justice Daniels had to say about the rules of evidence.

    It is worth noting that evidence of the regard with which Justice Daniels is held is evidenced by the fact that not a single person — Republican or Democrat — ran against him after he was appointed. Any potential candidate for the position is constitutionally required to be a lawyer, and every lawyer knows that Justice Daniels belongs on our Supreme Court. In fact, the best evidence of Justice Daniels’ character probably comes from any lawyer who has ever had a case against him. The fact is, that you will have to scour the state and even look under rocks for a lawyer who would say anything different than the sentiment expressed in this e-mail.

    Justice Daniels has always held himself to the highest standards of ethics and, as a result, anyone who knows him holds him in the highest regard.

  22. I’m sorry, buy the seat or not, the NM Supreme Court is an embarrassment to citizens who believe in justice, fairness, and objective use of the laws without political bias.

  23. Chief Justice Charles Daniels has been without question a model of ethical behavior both on and off the bench in his 40+ years of legal practice. As a champion of civil rights, a scholar, an attorney and former law professor he was sought out by the legal community to teach and talk about ethics to students and lawyers alike, which were talks modeled on his own upstanding experiences, behavior and character.

    And prior to sitting on the bench, as a citizen, he was well within his rights to support various political campaigns, which is a right shared by all Americans. At the time of his donation, in 2006, there was no vacancy on the New Mexico Supreme Court and he was not considering or applying for any other judicial appointment at that time.

  24. The allegations of pay to play come from the mouth of Judge Michael Murphy and were RECORDED by one witness. So to jwboyd and the others that want to preach how shameful and unethical these allegations are, your message should be directed at your democrat judge that started bragging about how he bought his appointment, tried to tempt others by demanding they start giving payments in an envelope to get a position too, and then throw Charlie Daniels into the mix by comparing his appointment to Daniels’ appointment.

  25. I have known Charles Daniels for forty years. He was my law partner for thirty-five of those years. Even though he left our firm three years ago, he still will not sit on any case involving our firm because he thinks that’s the right thing to do.

    Daniels is the single most honest, ethical person I have ever known and by that I mean no disrespect to the other highly ethical and honest lawyers and judges I have known, and who predominate in our profession. The suggestion that Daniels would buy his office or would behave in any way unethically is shameful. Through his life and example, he has earned far better than that.

    Anyone who knows him will tell you this, whether it is another lawyer, another judge or, for that matter, any of the race car drivers he competes with or any of the myriad of other people he has interacted with in his life and in his career as a lawyer. Ask any of them.

  26. Of course Daniels didn’t buy his judgeship. They never do. They (and spouses, and business associates, and friends invited to fundraising events you put together for politicians)…they all just happen to make campaign contributions and expect nothing in return. The mere fact that they get something in return is of course, based purely on merit and a salmon-like drive to be a public servant. Wow! Who said the tooth fairy isn’t real?

Leave a response

You must be logged in to post a comment.