LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — A judge Friday dismissed charges against a Las Cruces judge accused in a pay-to-play scandal with ties to former Gov. Bill Richardson.
The order from Judge Leslie Smith was sealed, so it was unclear which defense motion to throw out the felony indictment against state District Judge Michael Murphy was granted or why. But the judge did say he was granting one of the many motions the defense had filed to dismiss the indictment without prejudice, leaving the door open for special prosecutor Matt Chandler to refile charges in the case.
Smith also dismissed a misdemeanor ethics charge that was filed against Murphy after the indictment.
Defense attorney Michael Stout said he could not discuss the sealed order, but said “dismissal is appropriate.”
“There is no crime here. If the prosecution proceeds fairly and follows the rules the charges will not be pursued,” Stout said in statement.
Chandler, however, defended the indictment and vowed to appeal the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court. He said he was in the process of filing a motion to reconsider and hoped to litigate that next week.
“It’s the state’s position that the defense attorneys have been disingenuous with the Court regarding the history of this case and the state’s laws, and when the Court hears all the facts and applies the applicable laws we are hopeful that the Court will revert to its original rulings and allow the State to proceed to a jury trial as scheduled,” Chandler said in a statement.
The case was scheduled to go to trial next month. Chandler called the ruling Friday “a setback for the prosecution, but it is our hope that it only causes a minor delay in the proceedings.”
“The State will continue to fight this legal battle even if it means going to the Supreme Court for guidance,” Chandler said. “It’s our position that these bribery allegations have merit and need to be presented to a jury for a determination of guilt or innocence for guidance. It’s our position that these bribery allegations have merit and need to be presented to a jury for a determination of guilt or innocence.”
Like Stout, Chandler said he was unable to discuss the sealed order, although he said he believes the public has the right to know the reasoning behind the ruling.
“Although I respect the Court’s order, I think it’s in the best interest of justice to have full transparency in this case,” he said.
Murphy was indicted in May on four counts of bribery, criminal solicitation and intimidation. He was accused of telling a potential judicial candidate that she needed to make payments to Democratic activist Edgar Lopez if she wanted to be considered for a seat on the bench in 2007. Allegations in a report released by Chandler after Murphy’s indictment implied the practice was common in the district and that the payments were funneled to Richardson.
Richardson has called the accusations “outrageous and defamatory.” Lopez called them “absurd.”