Galvan, though barred from office, not found by high court to have violated judicial ethics

Print

When the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order Thursday barring former Doña Ana County Magistrate Judge Reuben Galvan from ever again holding judicial office, it also denied the Judicial Standards Commission’s request for financial reimbursement from Galvan.

That’s because, the high court wrote in its order, Galvan “had already resigned from office when the commission conducted its hearing and … the commission failed to prove its case by clear and convincing evidence.”

Essentially, the justices were making clear that they were not finding Galvan guilty of the judicial misconduct of which he was accused. It’s interesting that, at the end of the Galvan saga, he’s been twice acquitted of criminal charges and also not found to have violated the judicial code of conduct.

Then why order him permanently barred from holding judicial office in New Mexico? The court’s order doesn’t answer that question.

But Celina Jones, assistant to Chief Justice Richard Bosson, said an “additional element” was the fact that the commission and high court sought a response from Galvan to the commission’s request that he be barred from office.

Galvan did not respond.

“That alone doesn’t comport with appropriate standards of judicial conduct,” she said.

Galvan resigned last year amid allegations that he raped and solicited a bribe from a Las Cruces woman in August 2004. After two hung juries, prosecutors dropped the criminal charges.

Galvan admitted in a statement to police to actions that may violate the judicial code of conduct. While drinking and flirting in a bar, he discussed with the woman a pending battery case against her husband, though she was the alleged victim in that case. He had sex with the woman, though she and her husband had been married two months earlier by Galvan.

He also took the woman for a ride in his Porsche, though he told police he had too much to drink before driving.

It was allegations related to those incidents that led to the petition for discipline of Galvan.

The judicial disciplinary process was initially put on hold pending the outcome of the criminal matter. After Galvan resigned last summer, the commission requested that the high court permanently bar Galvan from the judiciary.

Galvan had a chance to defend himself, but let pass a June 16 deadline to respond to the commission’s petition seeking a permanent ban from office. The commission then filed a strongly worded request to the high court to act.

It did.

The order by the court might have implications for other matters, but it is not a legal opinion, so it’s not clear whether the justices will apply the same standards in other matters.

Former District Judge Larry Ramirez of Las Cruces might find himself in a situation similar to that of Galvan. He resigned recently, just as judicial proceedings against him began. He was accused of sexual harassment and making inappropriate comments in court.

He said he resigned in part because the financial burden of defending himself would have been too great.

Records in the Ramirez case are sealed, but the commission might have already requested that he be permanently barred from the judiciary. If Ramirez doesn’t want that to happen, he might have to spend his own money to fight the commission anyway, if the court applies the same standard it did in the Galvan matter.

According to the public docket, the high court ordered Ramirez last week to respond to a sealed petition from the commission.

The court’s ruling might also indicate that it’s not likely to order former judges to reimburse the commission for investigative costs when they resign before hearings are conducted.

Commission director Jim Noel said until the court issues a formal opinion that indicates otherwise, current duties of the commission include proceeding with petitions for discipline even if judges resign or retire before the process is complete.

“I think accountability is an important part of the process,” he said. “If a judge can avoid accountability by resigning or retiring, we’re undermining the constitutional duties of the commission.”

Comments are closed.