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Ex-prosecutor says she was fired from DA’s Office for raising ethics issue

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

A former prosecutor with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office contends in a lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for complaining to her bosses that a state district judge, now serving on the state Court of Appeals, had a conflict of interest in presiding over a criminal case involving his former client.

Judge Gerald Baca

Her bosses, District Attorney Thomas Clayton and his predecessor in the office, Richard C. Flores, both worked for the judge, Gerald Baca, in his private law practice at various times before he was appointed a judge in the 4th Judicial District in 2013, the lawsuit alleges. The district covers San Miguel, Guadalupe and Mora counties.

Former Deputy District Attorney Pilar Tirado Murray is seeking back pay and other damages in the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday in 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe.

She contends she raised concerns in December 2019 when then-state District Judge Baca refused to voluntarily recuse himself from the arraignment of Daniel Yara, his former client. Yara was facing charges of residential burglary and bribery of a witness.

Murray’s lawsuit said she was prohibited from filing a motion requesting that Baca remove himself from the case by her supervisor, then-chief deputy Clayton.

Baca, who in March was appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to the state Court of Appeals, declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuit.

“It would be inappropriate to comment on the merits of the lawsuit because this is a pending legal matter,” Barry Massey, spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said in an emailed statement. “Courts exist to resolve these types of disputes.”

Baca is not a defendant in the case. Murray, who couldn’t be reached for comment, has been an attorney for more than 20 years.

The lawsuit alleges the judge’s refusal to recuse himself “deepened” her belief that Baca was operating in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Murray believed his continuing to preside over the case gave the appearance he lacked or appeared to lack impartiality toward his former client, says the lawsuit, which was filed by Albuquerque attorneys Levi Monagle and Brad Hall.

Murray alleged in the lawsuit that her supervisor, Clayton, told her that if the judge “declines to acknowledge the conflict, there is nothing further that I can do because our office policy is not to recuse (or file motions to recuse) our local judges.”

Murray spent less than a year in the DA’s Office. On March 17, 2020, Murray said, Clayton came into her office and told her she was being terminated, effective immediately, the lawsuit says.

She was told that she served in an “at will” position and that such attorneys “serve at the pleasure of the district attorney.”

The lawsuit contends the DA’s Office didn’t contest her subsequent claim for unemployment benefits.

Clayton, who is the named defendant, couldn’t be reached for comment late Wednesday.

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