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Judge battles delays, ruffles feathers

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Some judges are more tolerant than others of delays. Judge Judith Nakamura isn’t one of them.

Attorney Matthew Huggins wanted to delay his client’s September trial, even though the man he represents has been sitting in jail going on three years.

NAKAMURA: Not a lot of tolerance for delays (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

NAKAMURA: Not a lot of tolerance for delays (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Huggins represents Diego Gonzales, who was indicted in March 2012 on three counts of child abuse resulting in great bodily harm, kidnapping and aggravated assault on a family member and assault and battery of a police officer.

In non-legal terms, he was accused of abusing his girlfriend’s 2½-year-old daughter and then holding his girlfriend at knife point, refusing to allow her to leave their apartment. That preceded his encounter with officers called to the scene.

He has been in jail since his arrest in February 2012 – more than 900 days at a cost of more than $60,000 to taxpayers.

Huggins said he needed more time so Gonzales could be examined by a sleep specialist to bolster a defense theory that Gonzales may have committed some of the crimes because of a sleep disorder.

According to Huggins, the specialist could only examine Gonzales on Sept. 10, which was two days after his trial was scheduled to start.

District Judge Judith Nakamura was having none of it.

Huggins argued at a pretrial hearing on July 29 that he had a heavy caseload as a contract public defender, that he had difficulty finding a doctor willing to examine Gonzales and that the jail failed to transport Gonzales for a scheduled appointment despite Nakamura’s orders to the jail to transport Gonzales.

Nakamura pointed out that Huggins had not named the doctor as a witness by the deadline she had set and that he hadn’t asked for an extension of time on the order so it was unlikely the doctor could testify at trial.

GONZALES: Sitting in jail going on three years

GONZALES: Sitting in jail going on three years

As the July 29 hearing continued, it grew more heated. Huggins asked that the judge find that he had failed to provide effective assistance to his client. Nakamura refused.

Huggins threatened to appeal her ruling. Nakamura refused to delay the trial date.

Huggins said, “And like all public defender contractors and like all public defenders right now, we have exceptionally high caseloads due to the general dysfunction in the courts and delay. We’re experiencing …”

Nakamura cut Huggins off.

“Not this Court. You’re asking me to step into you all’s dysfunction and delay, and I’m not going to do that.”

She told Huggins the case had been pending for 2½ years.

Nakamura was assigned the case in March 2013 – the fourth judge to get it.

The case had been scheduled to trial in March of this year, but was delayed until September. Nakamura attributed the delay to Huggins.

Whether the trial goes as scheduled remains to be seen.

In August, Dana Kanter Grubesic entered an appearance as co-counsel for the defense, along with Huggins.

Nakamura, who is opposed in the November election by Grubesic’s husband, former state Sen. John T. Grubesic of Santa Fe, then excused herself from the case to avoid an appearance of impropriety.

The case was assigned to pro temp District Judge Richard Knowles, who is retired but was recently appointed to fill in for District Judge Kenneth Martinez who resigned due to health reasons.

Knowles denied a motion to delay the trial and, on the day it was scheduled to begin, Gonzales signed an agreement to plead guilty to kidnapping in the case.

Nakamura doesn’t clash only with defense attorneys over following timetables and orders. A month later in a relatively minor drug case, she told a prosecutor she would not allow him to call key witnesses who were not disclosed to the defense prior to the deadline for witness disclosure.

Further, she said she would exclude evidence that had not been revealed to the defense.

But she pays a price. Nakamura has been disqualified by defense attorneys in 47 cases this year according to records released by the court administrator’s office in response to a Journal records request. Only District Judge Benjamin Chavez has been disqualified as often.

Nakamura has had 25 criminal jury trials since July 2013. Other judges in the criminal division have had between three and 18 in the same time period.

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