Appeal delays Murphy trial
Third Judicial District Judge Mike Murphy’s bribery trial had been scheduled for early February, but a judge has put the case on hold while the Court of Appeals considers whether to reinstate a misdemeanor charge.
In September, Judge Leslie Smith dropped the misdemeanor charge of violating the Governmental Conduct Act. The act states that it is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $1,000. But Smith ruled that the portion under which Murphy is charged is not a criminal statute because it is too vague to make clear what conduct it prohibits.
Special prosecutor Matt Chandler has appealed, arguing that the Legislature intended that the statute, which requires that a public officer “conduct himself in a manner that justifies the confidence placed in him by the people, at all times maintaining the integrity and discharging ethically the high responsibilities of public service,” be punishable with prison time and a fine.
The Court of Appeals is currently considering the issue. In November, Smith put the trial on hold pending the appellate court’s decision.
Murphy currently faces felony charges stemming from two cases. His May indictment on four felony charges is based on allegations that he solicited a bribe from potential judicial applicant Beverly Singleman, told 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.
Separate from that indictment, Murphy faces another felony charge for allegedly offering “several promises” to Schultz in December 2010 if she would agree to be the tie-breaking vote to make Douglas R. Driggers the chief district judge in Las Cruces.
Murphy has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
How quickly the Court of Appeals will act isn’t clear, but a note in Murphy’s District Court file states that attorneys are “advised to continue preparation for trial since the court anticipates setting a ‘compressed’ deadline and trial schedule upon receiving the ruling from the Court of Appeals.”
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