‘The Court refuses to be led into error because of what I consider to be incomplete briefing,’ Judge Leslie Smith says in explaining the reversal of his previous decision to drop the charges
The judge overseeing the bribery case against District Judge Mike Murphy has reinstated the felony indictment he dismissed last month and set a new trial date of Feb. 6.
In reinstating the indictment, Judge Leslie Smith essentially agreed with prosecutor Matt Chandler’s assertion that defense attorney Michael Stout had misled him into dismissing it last month – though he did not indicate that he believed the misleading was intentional, as Chandler has alleged.
“Failing to provide complete information can be just as misleading to a Court as purposefully giving inaccurate information,” Smith said in the order, which he issued today. “… The Court refuses to be led into error because of what I consider to be incomplete briefing.”
But with that statement, Smith was also pointing the finger at Chandler. For example, in one footnote about a previous judge’s ex parte order that Smith didn’t know about when he dismissed the charges, Smith wrote this:
“That information was relevant to the original motion to dismiss and to the Defendant’s motion to reconsider. Not only should the Defendant’s lawyer have shared that information, but the State should have responded to the original motion to reconsider and provided that pertinent detail.”
Smith told both attorneys to “provide the Court with the full and accurate information and authority” with the first motion they file on an issue in the future.
Read the full order here.
Stout had argued in his motion seeking dismissal of the indictment that the state failed to present exculpatory evidence – an argument Smith bought in dismissing the indictment. Chandler responded with his own motion that refuted each of several claims made by Stout and asked Smith to reconsider.
Chandler alleged at the time that Stout had “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.”
When the judge was presented with all the facts to which Chandler was referring, he agreed to reinstate the indictment. But he blamed both attorneys for not providing him with relevant facts.
Chandler pleased; Stout disappointed
Chandler said today that he is “pleased with the court’s ruling.”
“We’re prepared to go to trial in February and bring much-needed resolution to both the state and the defendant, as well as the citizens of Doña Ana County,” he said.
Stout said little has changed.
“This is a disappointing legal reversal, but it doesn’t change the facts. Judge Murphy is innocent and that will stay true in the light of day before a trial jury and before the public,” he said. “The disappointment is in the secret proceeding; a fair grand jury presentation would have ended the case sooner. Nonetheless, we take this as an opportunity to pursue other issues and to make clear Judge Murphy’s innocence.”
“This is simply a bend in the road,” Stout said. “The destination will be the same – the vindication of Judge Murphy.”
The charges Murphy now faces
Following Smith’s decision to reinstate the indictment, here are the charges Murphy faces:
- Demanding or receiving a bribe by a public employee, a third-degree felony.
- Bribery of a public officer or employee, a third-degree felony.
- Bribery, intimidation, or retaliation against a witness, a third-degree felony
- Criminal solicitation, a fourth-degree felony.
- Another third-degree felony charge of bribery of a public officer or employee.
The first four charges are from the indictment Smith reinstated today. They’re based on allegations 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.
The last charge is based on an incident in which Murphy is alleged to have offered “several promises” to District Judge Lisa 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.
Chandler requested last week that the N.M. Supreme Court bypass the normal appeals process and rule on his motion to reinstate the misdemeanor, but the court rejected that request. Working through the normal appeals process, Chandler has now filed a request to reinstate the charge with the N.M. Court of Appeals.
Before the recent dismissal and reinstatement of the indictment, trial was set to begin Oct. 31. You can read Smith’s motion to reset the trial for Feb. 6 here.
This article has been updated to include Stout’s comments and to accurately portray Smith’s order. Due to my initial misinterpretation of Smith’s order, a prior version of this article highlighted Smith’s blaming of Stout for not providing him with relevant information but didn’t mention that the judge also pointed the finger at Chandler. I have corrected that error, and I apologize to Stout. In addition, this article originally stated that Murphy is charged with paying a bribe for his position, which is not accurate.