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Plea deal likely in judge’s bribery case

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LAS CRUCES — It appears the two-year-old bribery case against former District Judge Michael Murphy will be resolved with a plea to one misdemeanor count of violating the Governmental Conduct Act, with felony charges being dismissed.

According to a recently filed motion approved by both Murphy’s lawyer Michael Stout and special prosecutor Matt Chandler of Clovis, the former judge won’t contest the filing of the new corruption charge — which he had earlier succeeded in having dismissed.

The agreement says Murphy will accept the new charge “contingent upon the State agreeing to certain conditions,” which the Journal has learned include dismissal of the felony bribery charges.

The new charge against Murphy would fall under an anti-corruption statute that says “public officers … shall conduct themselves in a manner that justifies the confidence placed in them by the people, at all times maintaining the integrity and discharging ethically the high responsibilities of public office.”

The bribery trial is scheduled to start May 24, but a change of plea hearing has been scheduled for April 18.

Chandler said he was prohibited from revealing plea negotiations or agreements “unless and until a plea is formally accepted by a judge.”

While the motion does not specify what actions led to the new charge. Chandler, in an email, said the charges stem from “Murphy’s continuous attempts” between May 2009 and May 2011 “to manipulate the Third Judicial District’s chief judge’s election and bribe a public official.”

Murphy has maintained his innocence since he was indicted in the spring of 2011 on felony charges of bribery, solicitation and intimidation of a witness.

In a case rooted in a 2007 conversation, Murphy is accused of telling a lawyer, who was interested in a gubernatorial appointment to a judgeship, that she needed to provide payments or political contributions to a Las Cruces politico connected to then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

A central witness in the case, District Judge Lisa Schultz, secretly recorded conversations with fellow judges in the district and took her concerns to law enforcement in 2010. Former Las Cruces-based District Attorney Susana Martinez referred the case to special prosecutor Chandler before she was elected governor in 2010.

Asked about Murphy’s stated acceptance of a new misdemeanor charge, Stout said, “Before the proceedings are conducted I can only reiterate that Judge Murphy is innocent and he has been wrongly charged. The upcoming resolution will show that.”

Murphy resigned from the bench in February 2012 under an agreement with the state Judicial Standards Commission. He agreed he would never again hold, become a candidate for, run for, or stand for election to any New Mexico judicial office in the future, according to a Supreme Court order.

Murphy, a domestic relations specialist, was appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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