Indicted judge allegedly said he gave money to get his appointment from then-Gov. Bill Richardson, and others had to do the same; Judge Lisa Schultz reported the situation to law enforcement
Third Judicial District Judge Mike Murphy allegedly said he gave $4,000 to get appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006, and told several people that other judicial appointees had to give money as well.
That’s according witness statements detailed in an incident report about the bribery case against Murphy. Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler, the special prosecutor in the case, released the report and the grand jury indictment of Murphy today in response to a records request from NMPolitics.net. It’s the first time the facts of the case have been made public.
Read the report and indictment here.
The report details efforts by Third Judicial District Judge Lisa Schultz to work within the judicial system for two years to stop what she apparently believed was a pay-to-play scheme that went all the way to Richardson, and Schultz’s reporting of the situation to then-District Attorney Susana Martinez in 2009 after concluding that nothing was being done.
The report also raises the possibility that other judges, including Third Judicial District Judge Jim T. Martin, were involved in the alleged scheme that has led to felony charges against Murphy.
No one but Murphy has been charged in the case or received notice that a grand jury will consider indicting them. Chandler has declined to comment on whether others might be targeted.
But the report raises questions about the involvement of others including Richardson, Martin and longtime Democratic political insider Edgar Lopez. And it indicates that the investigation is ongoing.
Martin, like Murphy, has retained an attorney because of the investigation, according to the report.
A grand jury indicted Murphy on Friday on third-degree felony charges of demanding or receiving a bribe by a public employee; bribery of a public officer or employee; and bribery, intimidation, or retaliation against a witness, in addition to a fourth-degree felony charge of criminal solicitation.
Chandler’s office also plans to file misdemeanor charges against Murphy under a statute that prohibits certain acts by public officials, according to the report.
The criminal case against Murphy, a Democrat, is largely built on the testimony of several Democrats including Schultz, and one former Democrat who is now a registered independent.
‘Write a check… and deliver it to Edgar Lopez’
The report details events that started in September 2007, when Las Cruces attorney Beverly Singleman, a former Appeals Court judge and the Democrat-turned-independent, was considering applying for a vacancy on the Third Judicial District Court. She asked to meet with Martin to discuss things, and he brought Murphy with him.
Martin, who was appointed to the bench by Richardson in July 2005, didn’t say much at the meeting, Singleman claimed in an affidavit given to investigators. But Murphy, who Richardson appointed in June 2006, had plenty to say.
He told Singleman if she wanted support from the Democratic Party, she needed to join the Dennis Chavez Club – a fundraising group honoring the former senator. Murphy also said she should “write a check to the Democratic Party every week in whatever amount she could afford and deliver it to Edgar Lopez.”
Singleman noted that Martin “listened to Judge Murphy’s entire conversation without objecting.”
Following the meeting, Singleman talked with Schultz about the situation. Schultz, according to the report, began keeping a journal in which she documented interactions related to the situation and “other issues.”
Lopez would allegedly ‘hand-deliver’ envelopes to Richardson
During conversations with Schultz, the report states, Murphy said “they” would make Singleman a judge if, the next time a vacancy came up, Schultz agreed to support “their” choice of Carolyn Baca-Waters, a Las Cruces attorney. Murphy also said “that he and other judges worked closely with Edgar Lopez to pick new judges,” Schultz claimed.
Murphy “told Judge Schultz that Edgar Lopez always chose the new judges in the district,” the report states.
When Schultz protested, according to the report, Murphy said, “Look, I’m not joking. You tell Beverly she had better make weekly payments to Edgar Lopez if she wants the next judgeship.” He said the payments should be given as cash in envelopes.
“Judge Murphy explained that Mr. Edgar Lopez was close friends with the governor and would hand-deliver the envelopes to him,” the report states.
Schultz, who had been appointed to the bench by Richardson in October 2006, called former Appeals Court Judge Rudy Apodaca to ask for advice. He told her that, “as terrible as it sounded, the system in fact did work in the manner described by Judge Murphy,” the report states, adding that “Judge Apodaca told Judge Schultz that it would ruin her career to raise the issue and she should leave it alone.”
Schultz didn’t leave it alone. She had previously asked Norm Osborn, the Third Judicial District Court’s staff attorney, for an opinion. He wrote in a Sept. 24, 2007 memo that Murphy’s conduct was inappropriate and could be interpreted as “offering political influence in return for campaign contributions,” according to the report. Osborn urged Schultz to “consider referring this matter to the Judicial Standards Commission and to do so without delay.”
Schultz didn’t want to do that. She wrote in her journal that the majority of the commission’s members were appointed by Richardson, and the commission, which investigates ethical complaints against judges, had power over her.
Schultz wrote that she believed “the scheme also involved Governor Richardson,” and she did not feel comfortable “turning in Governor Richardson to his own board.”
Murphy, Martin ‘promised’ to stop, Schultz claims
Schultz instead talked with Robert E. Robles, then the chief judge in the Third Judicial District and now an Appeals Court judge. Robles asked if Schultz wanted him to confront Murphy. Schultz wrote in her journal that she decided to do it herself.
“Then Judge Schultz challenged both Murphy and Martin on their behavior in soliciting contributions from judicial candidates, and informed them that this was both wrong and unethical,” the report states. “Judge Martin did not argue or disagree with Judge Schultz, but instead remained silent and indicated his understanding of her accusations with a nod of his head.”
“She told them that they should not do it again and both judges promised to comply,” the report states.
The report isn’t specific, but it states that over the course of the next year “several things” led Schultz to believe that Murphy and Martin “may still be influencing the selection process.”
So she spoke with Supreme Court Justice Petra Maes about the situation. Maes referred her to Appeals Judge James Wechsler, who chairs the Supreme Court’s advisory committee on the Code of Judicial Conduct. At Maes’ suggestion, Schultz also spoke with several female district judges at a statewide meeting.
All but one of those women advised her to report the situation to law enforcement, the report states. Fourth Judicial District Judge Abigail Aragon, on the other hand, told her not to feel pressured to turn in Murphy, saying Schultz’s concerns about loved ones or herself being physically threatened, and her career ruined, “were not unfounded.”
Wechsler later told Schultz that “too much time had passed” since Murphy’s appointment, the report states, “and nothing could be done at this point, but he would keep a record of their conversation for future reference.”
That’s over… we’re going to have a new governor’
During Schultz’s conversation with the female judges, Eleventh Judicial District Judge Sandra Price recommended that Schultz secretly record a conversation with Murphy. According to the report, she did just that.
Here’s a portion of what is said on the recording, which Schultz later turned over to law enforcement:
“Judge Schultz said to Murphy, ‘Do you remember when I asked you and Judge Martin about the fact that you guys had mentioned to judicial candidates that they, it would help their chances to give money to Edgar Lopez and hence the governor, blah, blah, blah, blah?’”
“Judge Murphy responded and said, ‘Yeah, of course, that’s over now, because we’re going to have a new governor.’”
Schultz also asked Murphy whether that sort of behavior happened with the appointment of Manuel I. Arrieta to the bench in December 2008, and Murphy said it had not.
Schultz reports the situation to law enforcement
Sometime in 2009, after “reporting the information to several sources” and concluding that “Judge Murphy and Judge Martin’s wrongdoings were being overlooked,” Schultz reported the situation to then-DA Martinez, a Republican who is now governor. Martinez appointed the Republican Chandler to investigate because of the conflict created by investigating a judge in the court in which Martinez’s office prosecutes cases.
The report details interviews investigators conducted with Murphy, Martin, Lopez and others. Martin, the report states, was asked if giving money in exchange for an appointment was common practice. From the report:
“…he indicated that to be nominated for a judgeship, a person has to get on the list, and the governor appoints from that list. Judge Martin said the governor picks someone who is active in the party. ‘A way to show that you’re active in the party is to make donations to the party, participate in events, go to fundraisers, help a particular campaign, be a good democrat or republican. That’s kind of the nature of politics, you have to be actively involved in the game.’”
Murphy told investigators he did not remember meeting with Singleman or telling her to make donations. He asked to be allowed to take a polygraph test, then never agreed to take it, the report states.
Lopez told investigators that he had been involved in judicial appointments, and said Martin was appointed instead of Murphy in 2003 because Murphy “did not pay Edgar homage.”
After Martin got the 2003 appointment, Lopez told investigators, Murphy asked to meet with him.
“Murphy came in the door and he says I want to give. I understand I have to come see you,” Lopez told investigators. “…And he said well I’m sorry. I’m here to do whatever I need to do.”
Later in the interview, Lopez told investigators there had been talk “that he is the person that gets the judges appointed, and that this is just not the case.”
Murphy said he gave $4K for appointment, Bridgforth claims
Investigators also interviewed former Third Judicial District Judge Stephen Bridgforth, who relayed conversations he had with Murphy and Lopez.
Bridgforth, who was not appointed by Richardson, told investigators that Murphy said a person had to make a “significant donation” to be appointed to a judgeship by Richardson. Murphy told Bridgforth he gave $4,000 to Richardson.
NMPolitics.net has been able to identify $410 in publicly disclosed campaign contributions from Murphy and his wife to Richardson.
Bridgforth said he told Murphy that it sounded like he was “paying for the position.” Murphy, he claimed, replied by calling Bridgforth old fashioned and saying, “That’s how business is done nowadays.”
Bridgforth, who retired in January, also claimed that Lopez approached him sometime last year and asked him to retire before the end of the year so Richardson could appoint his replacement before he left office.
Lopez said Richardson would appoint Larry Pickett, a Las Cruces attorney, to the bench. Bridgforth said he denied Lopez’s request.
Investigators also spoke with Osborn, who said Murphy told him he had given money to Lopez every month “to influence his appointment process.” Like others, Osborn said Murphy told him that those who want a judicial appointment must give a “substantial amount” in an envelope to Edgar Lopez every month.
The report states that investigators obtained bank records related to Murphy’s finances, but it doesn’t detail what they found.
In the past several weeks, NMPolitics.net has contacted Murphy, Martin, Lopez, Schultz, Robles and a spokeswoman for Richardson seeking comment. All have declined to be interviewed about the situation. Murphy’s attorney has maintained his client’s innocence.
A prior version of this posting incorrectly stated that Martin was appointed in 2003.