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Lawyer pleads in judge assault

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The bizarre case of a lawyer accused of using his SUV to frighten a judge as he walked across a street has come to an end.

Eric Dixon of Portales entered an Alford plea on April 8 in state District Court in Clovis as part of a plea agreement, in which he didn’t admit guilt but admits the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him at trial. Dixon was scheduled to go on trial the day he entered the plea.

Dixon entered the plea to misdemeanor charges of careless driving and assault. He had been charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a felony carrying a prison term of up to 18 months.

Dixon received a conditional discharge, meaning there was no finding of guilt and the charges will be dismissed upon the lawyer’s satisfactory completion of probation.

Asked in a telephone interview whether he was pleased to get the criminal case behind him, Dixon said, “I’m happy every day.”

His attorney, Gary Mitchell, told the Portales News-Tribune that the plea wouldn’t jeopardize Dixon’s law license.

The case stemmed from an incident outside the Curry County Courthouse in Clovis in April 2011.

State District Court Chief Judge Ted L. Hartley, who has since retired, was walking across Main Street on his way back to the courthouse after lunch when a sports utility vehicle approached.

While in the street, Hartley has testified, he heard an engine rev and a horn honk, then saw the SUV picking up speed as it came at him. He said he narrowly made it to safety between parked cars.

“It was coming straight at me. … I barely got into the gap” between parked vehicles, Hartley has said.

A witness said she thought the driver was trying to hit the judge.

There is no dispute that Dixon, who had differences with Hartley, was driving the vehicle, but Dixon said he slowed and lightly honked his horn because he was concerned the pedestrian didn’t see his vehicle.

Dixon has also said he didn’t know the pedestrian was Hartley until he passed the judge.

In addition to the criminal case, Dixon faced a proceeding before the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court, which investigates alleged misconduct by lawyers.

Dixon was a member of the board at the time of the incident with Hartley but took a leave after being criminally charged.

A hearing committee for the Disciplinary Board found that Dixon knew the pedestrian was Hartley and that he knowingly tried to frighten him.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the disciplinary case last August and issued a written admonition of Dixon.

The justices also booted Dixon as a member of the Disciplinary Board and ordered him to pay the costs of the disciplinary case against him.

Dixon told the justices, “I will take your admonition to heart.” Outside the courtroom, he and Hartley shook hands and professed no ill will against each other.

Hartley told the News-Tribune he was pleased the criminal case had also come to an end. “It’s over,” he said. “Let’s just leave it there.”

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at tcole@abqjournal.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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