Judge threatens whistle-blower lawsuit

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Las Cruces judge who is a key witness in the bribery case against a former colleague on the bench contends she has been a victim of retaliation and harassment by judges and court officials that included the assignment of a drug-addicted intern to “spy” on her at work.

State District Judge Lisa C. Schultz filed a tort claim notice in late December alleging whistle-blower retaliation, hostile work environment, failure to maintain a safe building and failure to make reasonable accommodations. Such notice is often a precursor to the filing of a lawsuit.

“The facts that are in the tort claim notice represent just the tip of the iceberg,” said Schultz in a brief phone interview on Thursday. She declined further comment.

Schultz’s nine-page claim focuses on the alleged ramifications of her allegations that state District Judge Michael Murphy made remarks that were tantamount to bribery.

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For instance, Schultz in the notice claims her criminal caseload was increased and she was assigned an intern who spied on her and sprayed her office with perfume knowing she was allergic to it.

Murphy is accused of telling a prospective judicial candidate in 2006 that she could better her chances of appointment to the bench by donating money to a local Democratic Party operative in Las Cruces. Schultz contends Murphy repeated similar comments to her in a private conversation.

Murphy was ultimately indicted on bribery charges in May 2011 and resigned a year ago as he was about to face judicial disciplinary proceedings on an unrelated matter. That matter involved allegations he had made derogatory and biased comments about a group or group of people – remarks captured by Schultz on a secret recording she made of a conversation with Murphy.

While the bribery case has stalled over the past year, trial is now set for May 20. Murphy has pleaded not guilty.

Targeted in Schultz’s notice were the state Administrative Office of the Courts, the Doña Ana County Clerk, and her own Third Judicial District Court based in Las Cruces, including the chief judge of the court.

Secret recordings

Schultz accuses the court hierarchy in Las Cruces of falsifying documents and court statistics and making up false allegations to try to tarnish her reputation. The tort claim also accuses Murphy of telling Schultz, “on numerous occasions, that he wore a gun under his robes.”

Murphy’s attorney, Michael Stout, had no comment on that allegation or the tort claim notice itself earlier this week.

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Schultz’s secret audio recordings of conversations with Murphy have been the prime evidence cited by special prosecutor Matt Chandler, the district attorney in Clovis. Schultz made at least 10 secret recordings of conversations with Murphy and other court officials and judges.

New Mexico law allows a person to record his or her own conversations without telling other parties.

Norm Osborne, who is court executive officer for the district courts in Las Cruces, referred a reporter to the state Risk Management division for comment on the tort claim allegations.

Osborne said he was also speaking for Chief Judge Douglas R. Driggers, who was out of the office.

Tim Korte, spokesman for Risk Management, declined comment other than to say his agency had received Schultz’s notice. Schultz filed the notice pro se, in other words representing herself.

Schultz and Murphy, both Democrats, were appointed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006.

The threats, according to her tort claim notice, began “immediately in September 2007” after she learned of Murphy’s comments to the prospective judicial candidate and confronted him.

Schultz contends that “as my activity intensified as a witness in the Murphy” case, so too did the systemic, and apparently coordinated, efforts by various entities and persons to threaten, harass and intimidate me.”

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For instance, the notice alleges:

♦ Judges in the Third District Court, acting with the Administrative Office of the Courts, lodged false complaints against Schultz, accusing her of being biased for the prosecution, unintelligent and unethical.

“These are exactly the claims needed to destroy the credibility of the disclosing witness as to the ‘pay to play’ allegations against Judge Murphy,” her tort claim notice states.

The state Judicial Standards Commission typically investigates such complaints, which are confidential. Investigations of the complaints were closed last October, “revealing no wrongdoing on my part,” the notice states.

“The “external referral” of complaints by the AOC (presumably to the Judicial Standards Commission) was in “stark contrast to its ‘in house’ treatment of all prior (and numerous) complaints by others against Murphy and (chief judge) Driggers.”

♦ The Third District Court provided false information to damage Schultz’s reputation as a judge with the state Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, which provides the public with information about judges up for retention in New Mexico. She is up for retention in 2014. Evidence exists, she claims, of the court’s pattern of falsifying court records to suppress her caseload statistics.

♦ Driggers, who as chief judge oversees administrative matters, increased Schultz’s caseload just as her involvement as a prosecution witness broadened. The “caseload harassment” continued with cases being arbitrarily assigned, transferred and later reduced. The notice also alleged Driggers “continues his pattern of hanging up on me when I call to speak with him.”

♦ Schultz obtained a signed statement from a court administrator that “implicated” another judge in the creation of what she believed were “detrimental and false court reports.”

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♦ Schultz went to the FBI in September 2009 to report the “pay to play” allegations that first surfaced two years earlier.

Intern problems

Seven weeks after she contacted the FBI in 2009, Schultz contends in the notice, the Third Judicial District Court “hired and placed in my chambers an intern to ‘help’ me. Upon information and belief, this intern was placed in my chambers to ‘spy’ on me.”

The intern showed up just days after Schultz obtained the statement about another judge in the courthouse creating false court reports, she alleges.

Meanwhile, the intern was a “meth and heroin addict,” who was mentioned in 11 police “incident reports” that Schultz obtained.

“Further, this young lady/intern wore excessive perfume,” the notice stated. “The Court was aware that I have a disability (severe allergies) for which I had made previous requests for accommodation.”

Schultz said she found “the intern deliberately spraying perfume around my desk. The intern was aware that I am severely allergic to perfume and other environmental toxins.” The woman died of a drug overdose in 2011.

The notice states that the resulting injuries Schultz has suffered include “loss of reputation and ability to receive promotion, physical injuries, as well as likelihood of being subjected to a continued, coordinated effort to remove me as a judge, or to prevent me from being retained.”

In another development, Marci Beyer, the wife of Murphy’s defense attorney, was elected to a Las Cruces district court judgeship last November and is now among the judges serving with Schultz.

Without commenting directly on the tort claim notice, Osborne said he believes the level of discourse among Las Cruces district judges has been professional.

“I would not go so far as to say that all judges agree with each other. Frankly I don’t know if they like each other. But people stay professional here. I have not been privy to any screaming matches or anything like that (involving the judges).”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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