DA wants Daniels to stay away from Murphy case
A rumor that a campaign contribution from Daniels’ wife may have bought his appointment to the high court, along with Daniel’s actions and statements in the Murphy case, create a negative appearance, prosecutor Matt Chandler argues
Special prosecutor Matt Chandler has filed a motion seeking the recusal of N.M. Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels from any matters related to the bribery case against Third Judicial District Judge Mike Murphy.
The motion also seeks Daniels’ recusal from any cases presented to the high court by the Judicial Standards Commission involving judges tied to the Murphy case.
Chandler filed the motion with the Supreme Court on Wednesday. He also filed a request that the court reinstate a misdemeanor charge of violating the state’s Governmental Conduct Act against Murphy – a charge the judge overseeing the case recently dismissed.
You can read the motion seeking Daniels’ recusal here.
A rumor that a campaign contribution from Daniels’ wife may have bought his appointment to the high court, along with Daniel’s actions and statements in the Murphy case, create a negative appearance, Chandler argues.
“If Chief Justice Daniels continues to rule in this matter, any such ruling could reasonably be questioned by members of the public based upon his prior involvement, public statements to the media about the credibility of the state’s witnesses and his statements made about the case in public settings,” Chandler wrote.
Daniels declined to comment.
Rumor about Daniels’ appointment to high court
Chandler asked the court to consider a statement Daniels made to NMPolitics.net in response to a claim in court records attributed to Murphy. As NMPolitics.net reported in May, Murphy was quoted as saying that, “if he was guilty of buying a judgeship, then what does that make Chief Justice (Charlie) Daniels.”
Daniels responded by telling NMPolitics.net he “did not buy this position. No one ever asked me to, and I never would have entertained the idea.”
“I don’t know who said what in all these multiple hearsay layers of he-said, she-said,” Daniels said. “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.”
According to a journal kept by District Judge Lisa Schultz, who first brought the allegations against Murphy to prosecutors, Murphy wasn’t the only person to share that rumor about Daniels. Schultz wrote that then-Third Judicial District Court Chief Judge Robert E. Robles, who had applied for the Supreme Court spot Richardson gave to Daniels, told her he wasn’t going to get the job.
“Judge Robles explained that the governor was going to appoint Charles Daniels, because his wife (Randi McGinn) had recently given a one-million dollar contribution to the governor’s campaign fund,” Schultz’s journal states.
Robles told NMPolitics.net he doesn’t recall having a conversation with Schultz about the Supreme Court appointment. When he talked with others about his application for the job, Robles said his focus was on the fact that no member of the high court was from Southern New Mexico.
Robles said he was aware that McGinn was active in the New Mexico Trial Lawyers Association, which was “very supportive of the governor.” And he did say, in conversations about the appointment, “that it was not likely that I would be appointed.”
Regardless of whether Schultz might have interpreted that as McGinn buying the job for Daniels, Robles said he doesn’t know how Schultz came up with a figure of $1 million.
“I have no idea how much anybody contributes. I never looked that up. I don’t recall anybody telling me,” Robles told NMPolitics.net. “I have no idea what the trial lawyers gave.”
NMPolitics.net has searched for and found no evidence of a $1 million contribution from anyone. According to FollowTheMoney.org, Daniels gave $200 to Richardson’s gubernatorial re-election campaign in 2006. His wife gave $3,000 to Richardson in 2002 and $5,000 to Richardson in 2006. McGinn also gave $2,300 to Richardson’s presidential campaign in February 2007, according to OpenSecrets.org.
The trial lawyers association gave $25,000 to Richardson’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, according to FollowTheMoney.org. It gave $52,500 to his 2006 re-election campaign.
No one has publicly accused Daniels, his wife, or the trial lawyers association of paying for Daniels’ appointment or claimed to have evidence that it happened.
Judge selection ‘suggested the appearance of impropriety’
In his request for Daniels’ recusal, Chandler also cited the chief justice’s previous actions in the Murphy case and statements about it. In his role as chief justice, Daniels has twice appointed judges to oversee the Murphy case. The Supreme Court also ruled twice (here and here) on whether to suspend Murphy from the bench pending the outcome of the criminal case against him, and Daniels voted both times.
The Supreme Court will rule at least once more on a matter related to the Murphy case because Chandler is asking the high court to reinstate the misdemeanor charge. Chandler has said he may also ask the high court to reinstate felony charges contained in an indictment the judge assigned to the case recently dismissed. That indictment alleges that Murphy solicited a bribe from potential judicial applicant Beverly Singleman, told District Judge Lisa Schultz to tell Singleman she needed to pay the bribe, and threatened to destroy Singleman’s reputation for telling others that he solicited a bribe from her (read more details here).
Chandler took issue in his motion with a previous decision by Daniels. In March, during the appointment of a judge to oversee maters related to the Murphy grand jury, Chandler says Daniels appointed District Judge J.C. Robinson of Silver City a day after Murphy’s attorney suggested to Chandler that a judge from Silver City should preside over such matters.
Chandler states in his motion that he was “quite concerned about the ‘coincidence’” and submitted a motion to Daniels to withdraw the appointment of Robinson, saying the situation “at least suggested the appearance of impropriety.”
Daniels denied the motion.
Chandler ‘shocked’ to hear Daniels’ phone conversation
Chandler’s motion details another situation he says is concerning. The day Murphy was arrested on a new charge relating to his solicitation of Schultz’s vote to make Douglas R. Driggers the chief judge in Las Cruces, Chandler spotted Daniels talking on his cell phone at a coffee shop outside Santa Fe. Statements he overheard led Chandler to believe Daniels was talking about Murphy’s arrest – before information about the arrest had been released to the public.
Among the statements Chandler states he overheard was, “what’s next, I mean, are they going to go after us for putting on the left shoe before putting on the right one?”
Chandler wrote that he was “shocked to walk by and hear the chief justice giving his opinion of the case already.” Chandler stated that he sent an e-mail to Daniels and Murphy’s attorney asking whether Daniels would recuse himself from further matters related to the case as a “good faith effort to informally resolve this matter outside public channels,” but Daniels didn’t respond.
That led to the formal motion Chandler filed Wednesday.
A prior version of this article incorrectly stated that Murphy is charged with paying a bribe for his position.
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