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Accused judge may take plea bargain

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The bribery case against former District Judge Michael Murphy of Las Cruces could end in a plea bargain next month.

Murphy pleaded not guilty in 2011 to felony charges of bribery, solicitation and intimidation of a witness, but according to court records a change of plea hearing is scheduled for April 18. The case is still on the court calendar to go to trial in mid-May.

Meanwhile, one of the key witnesses against Murphy, District Judge Lisa Schultz of Las Cruces, filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday against the state claiming she has been retaliated against for blowing the whistle on Murphy.

Schultz claims fellow judges and employees of the Third Judicial District in Las Cruces have taken various actions against her in an effort to force her from the bench.

She alleges that the retaliation includes filing false reports about her with state agencies, overloading her caseload, switching her assignments on short notice, and refusing to provide her with adequate staff to fulfill her duties as judge.

The Murphy case embroiled several other district judges in Las Cruces as witnesses and potential witnesses.

Murphy is accused of telling a prospective judicial candidate she needed to pay to receive an appointment to a seat on the bench and allegedly said he had paid $4,000 to a local politico to secure an appointment by Gov. Bill Richardson to a judgeship in 2006.

Following his indictment, Murphy was suspended without pay. He subsequently resigned his judgeship last year while facing disciplinary proceedings and agreed that he would never again hold, become a candidate for, run for, or stand for election to any New Mexico judicial office in the future.

That disciplinary action brought by the state Judicial Standards Commission and approved in an order by the New Mexico Supreme Court, centered on alleged offensive and biased remarks he made to court employees and others in the years prior to his indictment.

The bribery charges against Murphy, a 66-year-old domestic relations specialist, were not part of the Judicial Standards inquiry.

The case rocked the state judiciary after Schultz revealed she had recorded Murphy discussing political contributions and judicial appointments. Other judges throughout the state knew about the allegations for several years before Schultz ultimately reported them to law enforcement in late 2010.

The criminal case was on hold for more than a year while prosecutors appealed the dismissal of a related misdemeanor charge of violating the state’s Governmental Conduct Act.

Special prosecutor Matt Chandler, the district attorney in Clovis, said he couldn’t comment on any possible plea negotiations.

Murphy’s attorney, Michael Stout of Las Cruces, was out of town Wednesday and did not respond to an email request seeking comment.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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