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Arrested Judge To Take Leave

By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
    District Court Judge W. John Brennan late Saturday announced that he would take an immediate leave of absence after being arrested earlier in the day on drug charges.
    Brennan was arrested early Saturday morning and charged with possession of a controlled substance and tampering with evidence after police pulled him over near a sobriety checkpoint in Northeast Albuquerque.
    Police said Brennan was "obviously intoxicated" when his vehicle was stopped. Albuquerque police also said they found him and a passenger with cocaine.
    Brennan, 57, a state District Court judge since 1979 and chief judge in Bernalillo County for almost two decades, was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center about 4 a.m. Saturday and released on his own recognizance about 30 minutes later, jail records indicate.
    The passenger, Patricia Ann Mattioli, 43, was also charged with possession of a controlled substance and jailed.
    Timothy Padilla, Brennan's attorney, released a two-paragraph statement late Saturday.
    "Judge Brennan sincerely apologizes to his family, friends, fellow judges, and the community. He will take full responsibility for his actions," the statement said.
    "He will take a leave of absence immediately to address his problems and will provide a follow-up announcement next week."
    Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said she would contact other judicial districts to find someone to prosecute the case.
    "I don't see how we could possibly prosecute the case," she said. "I personally am probably involved in meeting almost on a weekly basis with Judge Brennan."
    Police said they stopped Brennan after he tried to avoid a sobriety checkpoint that had been set up on Menaul NE at University late Friday.
    About midnight, police said a sport utility vehicle traveling west reached the initial sign announcing the checkpoint. It slowed almost to a stop in the middle of Menaul and made a right turn into a parking lot, states a criminal complaint.
    "It was basically a dead-end parking lot," Albuquerque Police Department Sgt. Les Brown said. "There was no place to go.
    "They made contact with (Brennan) and he was obviously intoxicated, and he announced who he was," Brown said, adding that the judge was cooperative.
    Brennan smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech and a staggered gait, Brown said.
    A cocaine bindle— a folded piece of paper with powdered cocaine inside— dropped to the floor when Brennan got out of the vehicle, Brown said.
    "There was also a white powder substance which was on Mr. Brennan's pants around his crotch area," the complaint shows.
    "When they first approached him, he brushed it off," Brown said.
    A criminal complaint states that the powder tested positive for cocaine.
    Police also found cocaine in Mattioli's purse, he said, although a jail booking sheet indicates that Mattioli was found with methamphetamine.
    Brennan underwent field sobriety tests, which he failed, Brown said.
    Metropolitan Court records show that Brennan was charged with felony possession of a controlled substance and tampering with evidence. He could also face a drunken-driving charge pending results of a blood alcohol test, police said.
    Court records indicate that he made his initial court appearance in Metropolitan Court on Saturday and was released on his own recognizance.
    Mattioli was released after posting $2,500 bond.
    Mattioli is a staff member for the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education, said commission executive director Letitia Chambers.
    "She (Mattioli) will be on administrative leave until we know further about what the situation is," Chambers said.
    "I was just very surprised and sorry to hear it," she said. "She's an outstanding employee."
   
Hard to prosecute
    Brandenburg said Brennan's tenure in the judicial system could make it difficult to find others to handle his case.
    "He's been involved in the system, gosh, forever," Brandenburg said. "... And, because he is the chief judge of the largest judicial district, I think it's probably going to be a problem finding another judge that can hear the case. That's another issue."
    Brandenburg said it's too early to tell how the case could affect the 2nd Judicial District.
    Brennan is the kind of judge one can always go to with ideas to make the system better and to take on any extra load, she said.
    "So it is going to put us certainly at a disadvantage initially, and it's hard for us to calculate or evaluate what that is until we know what he will be doing and what role he decides to take or not to take," she said.
    "It's shocking. It's disappointing," Brandenburg said. "And it also really points out the problems that we have with drugs and alcohol and things in our community."
    State District Court Judge James Blackmer said the arrest of a District Court judge is a situation he hasn't seen in his more than 30 years in the legal profession and 17 years as a judge.
    Blackmer said people shouldn't "leap to conclusions."
    "Let the investigation go forward deliberately, and get all of the facts, before people make up their minds," he said. "He, like anybody else, is entitled to not only a presumption of innocence, no better or no worse than anybody else.
    "My heart goes out to him and to his family, no matter what the situation is," he said.