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Judge won’t give up NNMC embezzlement case

SANTA FE — A District Court judge is not going to recuse himself in the case of an alleged college embezzler and said that the Santa Fe District Attorney’s office, in asking that he step down from the case, was “judge-shopping.”

In September, Judge Jason Lidyard rejected a plea deal that called for 63-year-old Henrietta Trujillo to avoid jail time in exchange for paying back $82,000 back to Northern New Mexico College over the next five years. She also stole checks from the school.

Trujillo, the college’s former financial director, faces one felony count of embezzlement over $20,000 for stealing cash from the school between August 2012 and December 2014.

Lidyard said in rejecting the plea deal that he believed it was unfair because drug-addicted shoplifters would have to serve jail time for their crimes.

The District Attorney’s Office filed a written request for Lidyard to recuse himself from presiding over the case due to comments the judge made to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper after the hearing that were similar to what he had said from the bench about whether the plea deal was fair. The request argued that Lidyard’s comments might impact the fairness of the outcome in the case.

Lidyard wrote in an order filed this week that because the DA didn’t attempt to remove him until after the plea hearing and because denying the plea deal was his only action in the case so far, “…it is sufficiently clear that the State’s true motivation for trying to remove this Judge from the case is the rejection of the plea agreement and their desire to obtain another judge who might be willing to accept that agreement.”

Lidyard noted that the DA’s office initially filed a notice of excusal after the hearing on the plea deal but before the New Mexican article was published. The DA withdrew that notice later that day.

“The State’s attempt to excuse this Judge before their asserted grounds for recusal even arose is conclusive evidence that the State wanted to remove this Judge regardless of the statements contained in the newspaper article.”

Trujillo has admitted taking money from NNMC, and not cashing $167,000 in college checks, during State Auditor and State Police investigations in 2017. But she wasn’t charged until July of this year because Serna said he wanted to come up with a plea deal guaranteeing restitution before filing charges.

A DA’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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