FOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly reported that comments about a horse slaughter case had been removed from the campaign Facebook page of the judge hearing the case. As the story accurately reported, the comments were not made by the judge or his re-election staff, but by people interested in the case.
A lawyer in the legal fight over efforts to open a New Mexico horse slaughterhouse contends State District Judge Matthew Wilson of Santa Fe should step down from the case because posts about it appeared on his campaign Facebook page.
On Friday, Wilson still granted a preliminary injunction against the slaughterhouse operations proposed by Valley Meat Company in Roswell.
But attorneys for the meat company are seeking to have all of Wilson’s prior orders also overturned.
An emergency motion filed Thursday afternoon for Valley Meat called for Wilson to “recuse himself, withdraw his previous orders … and immediately refrain from taking further action in this case,” based on the Facebook postings.
Wilson didn’t make a decision on the recusal motion, instead issuing an order that gives the Attorney General’s Office – which is fighting the horse slaughtering operation in court – 15 days to respond and Valley Meat’s lawyers an additional 15 days to reply to the AG’s filing.
Earlier this month, at least three posts appeared on Wilson’s “Keep Judge Matthew Wilson” Facebook page regarding a 10-day restraining order against horse slaughtering he issued Jan. 3.
“Implore you to NOT ALLOW THE NEEDLESS SLAUGHTER OF HORSES,” wrote Linda Staszewski in a Jan. 13 post. “PLS turn this down. It is disgusting and inhumane.”
And Christine Fletcher Witham on Jan. 5 posted: “Thank you Judge Wilson for extending the ban on slaughter.” Michelle Zinitz added this post on Jan. 3: “Please do not allow Valley Meats (sic) to Open. This is a corrupt. …”
Wilson is running for the spot on the District Court bench to which he was appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez on Oct. 19, replacing retired Judge Stephen Pfeffer.
He’s expected to draw opposition in the Democratic primary from lawyers David Thomson and Yvonne Quintana, according to the Santa Fe County Democratic Party website.
Attorney A. Blair Dunn, representing Valley Meat, received an email Thursday morning informing him of the posts. The email, filed as an exhibit with the recusal motion, was from Jake Arnold, who is spokesman for the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office and active in local Democratic Party politics.
Arnold said Friday he’s not working for any of the other candidates for the judgeship held by Wilson but would likely support Thomson. “My concern was what was going on on that website,” Arnold said.
By Friday the posts had all been removed from Wilson’s Facebook page, but the damage was already done, the recusal motion claims.
Ex parte communications
The motion maintains that because the Facebook posts existed before Wilson issued prior orders in the case and because the private message function on Wilson’s Facebook page “is also enabled allowing for members of the public to have engaged in ex parte communications with the judge, those orders cannot withstand scrutiny and should be withdrawn,” the motion said.
The motion also said that there is no current rule, case or precedent for this type of issue in New Mexico. But the motion notes that an opinion of the California Judges Association states, “In the context of online social networking, the responsibility to avoid the appearance of bias goes further than simply not making such comments oneself.”
It also says, “Such comments on a judge’s personal page can become not only permanent but accessible to all of the judge’s friends. Leaving them on the page may create the impression that the judge has adopted the comments.”
Valley Meat, which used to slaughter cattle at the Roswell site, has been waging a battle for two years to reopen the plant as New Mexico’s only slaughterhouse for horses.
The issue now may be moot, however, as Congress’ latest budget bill does not include money for inspection of horse rendering plants in the U.S., which effectively bans horse slaughter for human consumption, precluding Valley Meat from engaging in that process.