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Santa Fe DA wants judge to quit embezzlement case

SANTA FE – The Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office wants a judge to recuse himself in a high-profile embezzlement case because of statements he made to a local newspaper.

Henrietta Trujillo, 63, faces one count of embezzlement over $20,000 for allegedly stealing over $82,000 in cash from Northern New Mexico College between August 2012 and December 2014 while she was the school’s financial director.

Trujillo admitted to taking the money, as well as about $167,000 in checks, amid State Auditor and State Police investigations in 2017, but she wasn’t charged until this July. District Attorney Marco Serna said he didn’t want to file charges against Trujillo until attorneys came to a plea deal.

On Sept. 16, state District Court Judge Jason Lidyard declined a plea deal that called for Trujillo to avoid jail time in exchange for paying back the $82,000 over five years, saying the deal was “too lenient.”

After the hearing, Lidyard told the Santa Fe New Mexican that “he saw an inequity in the type of resolution that was being requested,” according to a news article. He told the newspaper that the deal didn’t seem fair when compared to sentences imposed on drug-addicted defendants who shoplift.

On Sept. 20, Assistant District Attorney Ihsan Ahmed filed a request for Lidyard, a former prosecutor under Serna, to recuse himself from the case for the comments he made to the newspaper.

Ahmed cited the Judicial Standards Code that says, “A judge shall not make public statement that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of a matter pending or impending in any court, or make nonpublic statement that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing.”

Ahmed also cited the state law that says judges shall recuse themselves if their impartiality is brought into question.

“Given the Court’s comments to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Court’s impartiality may be reasonably questioned under the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Ahmed wrote. The document doesn’t say how Lidyard’s statements impact the fairness of the case. So far, no action has been taken on the request.

Jake Arnold, executive director of the NNMC advocacy group La Sociedad Venceslao Jaramillo, told the Journal after the hearing that Lidyard pointed at inmates who were there for their own hearings in jail attire and said some of them would do jail time for shoplifting.

Ahmed filed a document on Sept. 16, the same day as the plea hearing, saying the DA’s office was going to exercise its right to excuse Lidyard, but it was withdrawn that same day.

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