ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On a sidewalk outside the state Supreme Court building in Santa Fe on Wednesday morning, the former judge and the lawyer shook hands and professed no ill will against the other.
It was a far different scene from the one outside the Curry County Courthouse in Clovis on April 5, 2011.
On that spring day, state District Court Chief Judge Ted L. Hartley walked across Main Street on his way back to the courthouse after lunch.
While in the street, Hartley has testified, he heard an engine rev and a horn honk, then saw an SUV picking up speed as it came at him. He said he narrowly made it to safety between parked cars.
There is no dispute that Portales lawyer Eric Dixon, who had differences with Hartley, was driving the vehicle, but Dixon said he slowed and lightly honked his horn because he was concerned the pedestrian didn’t see his vehicle.
Dixon has also said he didn’t know the pedestrian was Hartley until he passed the judge.
The Supreme Court didn’t buy that.
After hearing arguments in a disciplinary case brought against Dixon as a result of the incident, the court said it would issue a written admonition of the lawyer.
The justices also booted Dixon from the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court, which investigates alleged misconduct by lawyers, and ordered Dixon to pay the costs of the disciplinary case against him.
“This was not a way to act,” Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes told Dixon after requiring him to stand before the court. “You knew it was Judge Hartley.
“You cannot behave this way,” Maes said. “You have to change.”
Dixon told the justices, “I will take your admonition to heart.” Outside the courtroom, he said. “I’m a happy guy today. I’m going to go on practicing law.”
A hearing committee appointed for Dixon’s case by the Disciplinary Board had recommended the Supreme Court suspend Dixon from practicing law for some period.
The hearing committee had found that Dixon knew the pedestrian was Hartley and that he knowingly tried to frighten him. After the Supreme Court hearing, Dixon said he still maintains he didn’t know it was Hartley in the street.
Hartley, who has since retired, sat at the table with the special counsel for the Disciplinary Board during the hearing. He didn’t address the court. In extending his hand afterward to Dixon, the former judge said he merely reported what he saw to authorities.
“It’s over,” Hartley said. “It’s a done thing. The court decided.”
Well, it’s really far from over.
Dixon still faces a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a fourth-degree felony, as a result of the incident. He has pleaded not guilty.
A jury trial in District Court was set for last spring but was postponed because of pending motions. A new trial date hasn’t been set.
If convicted, Dixon could end up back before the Supreme Court for additional discipline, including possible disbarment.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at email@example.com or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.