Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Judge in Trouble Over 'Fling'
By Astrid Galvan
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
An "intense romantic fling" with an assistant public defender who had pending cases before state District Judge Bob Schwartz may cost the colorful judge — known for his wit and wisecracks — a 60-day unpaid suspension, according to court documents unsealed this week.
The New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission is recommending Schwartz be suspended without pay for 60 days, receive a formal public reprimand, complete a course on sexual harassment and leave the bench during future medication transitions.
The recommendation will go before the state Supreme Court, which will make the final decision, on Oct. 12, said Paul Kennedy, Schwartz's attorney.
According to the commission's findings, Schwartz, a former district attorney and governor's crime adviser, is accused of failing to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary; failing to avoid impropriety; failing to recuse himself from the pending cases involving the defender; and of not conducting "extra-judicial activities as to minimize the risk of conflict with judicial obligations."
The allegations stem from Schwartz's self-reporting to the commission last August that his judicial conduct fell below his own standards as a result of switching medications for a chronic illness in spring 2009. Schwartz, 60, called it a "very difficult time in my life".
A months-long investigation followed, and the commission made the disciplinary recommendations in a petition this month.
"We think the punishment is disproportionate to the allegations, and we are confident of a full and fair review by the Supreme Court," Kennedy said.
Schwartz did not return a call seeking comment.
Among the alleged improprieties is a short-lived romantic relationship with a 29-year-old assistant public defender, who has since left that job.
According to the petition, the woman had represented defendants in Schwartz's court from November 2008 to late July 2009.
In early July 2009, Schwartz invited the defender to lunch on a workday. On what would be their first date, the judge gave the woman what he called a "gag gift": a book titled "The One Hour Orgasm," with an official picture of himself in his judicial robe pasted over the picture of the book's author. He also gave her a pair of purple latex gloves.
The next day, Schwartz took the woman to a concert in Santa Fe, according to the petition. After the concert, he told the woman he would recuse himself from her cases because he couldn't be fair. The couple went on to a bar called Anodyne in Downtown Albuquerque.
But Schwartz, who has never been accused of sexual harassment, failed to recuse himself from the cases in a timely manner, according to the petition.
He took action in two cases she was involved in on July 14, 2009, the petition states. In one of those cases, he publicly questioned his own prior decision to deny the woman's motion to dismiss. He withdrew his denial to dismiss and recused himself from that case, offering an ambiguous explanation.
"This I'm sure happens to every judge at some point, but this is for me, a definite moment of indecisiveness. I don't know what the right call is in this case, I really don't, and so I shall not be allowed in this case and let another judge take a look," Schwartz said at the time.
Schwartz eventually recused himself from all the cases the woman was involved in. She ended the romantic relationship because of the way he handled the recusals, according to the petition.
Schwartz and his attorney fought rigorously to keep the commission's proceedings and findings sealed, but documents were unsealed this week.
According to the documents, Chief Judge Ted Baca speaks highly of Schwartz. He described Schwartz as "well-suited to sit as a judge," and calls him a "very valuable member of the court."