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Probate judge resigns to avoid state discipline

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A southern New Mexico probate judge resigned Wednesday amid a criminal investigation and allegations that she granted her husband access to a dead man’s bank accounts and assets rather than tracking down the man’s relatives.

Pamela Smith

Pamela Smith agreed to resign in lieu of further disciplinary proceedings by the Judicial Standards Commission, according to a Supreme Court order issued Wednesday. Smith is the subject of an ongoing New Mexico State Police fraud investigation.

Smith, the sole Sierra County probate judge, also works as a field investigator for the Office of the Medical Investigator and was dispatched in March to the scene of 82-year-old Dominic Domingo’s death. In her field report, she identified her husband, Randy Smith, as Domingo’s next of kin.

She later said that she was unable to locate any family members, though Domingo’s nephew said in an affidavit that he met Randy Smith during a trip to Truth or Consequences two years before, according to the court documents.

The Judicial Standards Commission alleged that in May, in her role as a probate judge, Pamela Smith appointed her husband special administrator, which let him access and manage Domingo’s assets and bank accounts. The commission said that constitutes willful misconduct in office. She is also accused of altering or replacing documents in the probate case file.

Randy Smith later transferred $280,000 from Domingo’s bank accounts into an account he shared with his wife, the commission alleges.

In late July, Domingo’s sister learned of her brother’s death through a condolence letter from his pension fund. Her son started to research his uncle’s death and obtained a copy of Smith’s OMI report.

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When he contacted Smith, she told him she’d attempted to locate Domingo’s family by contacting a union he belonged to. She said the union told her that his only relative was a stepsister, who was also deceased. But when the nephew got in touch with that union, he was told that they were never contacted, according to the commission.

The nephew later contacted Randy Smith, who said Domingo asked him to take care of his expenses when he died, and said he could keep any money that was left over. And Pamela Smith’s attorney, Daniel Ivey-Soto said that his client’s understanding was that Domingo had no heirs.

He said Pamela Smith admitted that someone else should have handled Domingo’s probate case, and she tendered her resignation Wednesday, before a Supreme Court hearing in her case. She can never again serve as a judge in New Mexico.

“Mrs. Smith recognizes that it was still a conflict for her to preside over a case where she was an investigator and it was a conflict for her to appoint her husband in any capacity,” he said. “Even if it’s done in good faith.”

OMI confirmed Thursday that Smith has been placed on unpaid administrative leave.


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