Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Mexico Judge Sues Her Own Court

One local judge has formally threatened a lawsuit against the others – or at least against New Mexico’s Third Judicial District Court.

Judge Lisa Schultz has served a rambling Tort Claim Notice headed “re: Whistleblower Retaliation / Hostile Work Environment.”  Such notice is a requirement for any lawsuit against a state entity.  This one makes for sad reading.

Her claims include that a “spy” was assigned to work for her, that an incorrectly placed sewage line hasn’t been fixed, and that someone wore too much perfume into her office despite her allergy.  (She says that after she complained about the perfume, the perfume-wearer sprayed perfume around Judge Schultz’s desk.)   Judge Schultz “also found out that the reason Judge Murphy moved out of his old chambers was the mold from so many leaks in the roof.”  She also claims that when she got assigned a lot of domestic relations cases, and asked Judge Driggers to mentor her, he assigned that task to Judge Riedel instead of doing it himself.

It was Judge Schultz who rather doggedly pushed for legal proceedings against then-Judge Michael Murphy.  There was no hard evidence Murphy had done anything remotely criminal.  Even Judge Schultz admitted she wasn’t sure whether or not he was joking in certain crucial comments he made.  Nevertheless, Murphy was ultimately charged with a bunch of felonies, possibly because it was politically convenient to the folks making the charges.  Murphy eventually resigned.  The felony charges have lingered.  Judges from outside this district have handled the case.

Judge Schultz says the Murphy case judge and Judge Driggers urged her to speak with Murphy’s defense attorney, and that Driggers “stated that he didn’t understand my reluctance to be interviewed unless there was a concern that the statement I had previously given was not accurate.”  She alleges that when she refused, the defense attorney accused her of being biased for the prosecution.  (Since she had run around taping Murphy and other judges, hoping in vain to record something incriminating, then wouldn’t discuss the facts with Murphy’s attorney, I can see how someone might infer that she favored the prosecution.)

IF Judge Schultz is right that all the other judges are against her, and retaliating against her, then of course that’s improper; but her Tort Claim Notice doesn’t tend  to inspire great confidence.  It’s disjointed, and it raises a host of grievances against folks other than the Third Judicial District Court.  An apparent attachment, a verbose Motion filed with the Supreme court, references other writs by her, and suggests she’s spent considerable time on such things.  It looks as if she sometimes acted more like a litigant than a witness.

On page 7 under “Caseload Harassment,” she raises an odd set of issues, including that the Chief Judge “reduced my new criminal caseload from 65% to 40%” and that

two months later “Defendant Murphy renewed his demand for five years of my prescription drugs.”

I don’t know whether her caseload was too heavy or too light, because Chief Judge Douglas Driggers courteously declined to answer my questions on the subject and Judge Schultz wouldn’t even call me back.

Ordering her to show a list of her prescription drugs seems an easier call, because it’s on the public record and because it’s common sense.

According to public documents, Judge Schultz wrote that in pre-op for surgery in Illinois,  having just taken an anesthetic, she saw a TV news item about Governor Blagojevich.  It mentioned “pay to play.”  This “had a powerful and clarifying effect on me.”  This was “the last thing I remember before going under for surgery.”     When asked in an interview whether she was on any other medications, she refused to answer.

If the accusing witness against my client had acted oddly, I might ask for some medical information.  Such discovery issues are fought out every day in lawsuits.  Witnesses give up the information or seek a protective order, which judges grant or deny.

Here, the judge (not from 3rd J.D.) ruled against Judge Schultz.  The judge ordered her to let him review the list of prescription drugs privately, so that he could show defense counsel only what appeared relevant.   The fight went all the way to the NM Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ordered that she produce the list as ordered, so that the judge could give the defense what appeared relevant.  (Nothing did.)

As a trial lawyer I see little for her to complain about in this.  (Since she never called me back, I can’t evaluate her explanation if she has one.)  How drugs might have affected her actions was clearly in issue, based on her own journal.

When I mentioned the Notice  to two local lawyers, they wondered out loud about her health.  When I replied that the Notice mentioned allergies and medical problems, they shook their heads and added, almost in unison, “maybe some mental problems.”

At any rate, the Notice will go through whatever analysis and response the duly-constituted authorities deem fit, and maybe spark a lawsuit.  Another punch-line about Doña Ana County.

Meanwhile, this development won’t enhance judicial collegiality down at 201 Picacho.

[Most of the foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, February 17, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.

The foregoing is kind of a sad story.  Ms. Schultz appears to be a somewhat troubled person.  It may even turn out that rather than causing the difficulties she felt she had with her colleagues, the whole Judge Murphy saga resulted from those difficulties.  

It's hard not to feel sorry for Ms. Schultz -- even though she's living off the public.  (The newspaper compassionately omitted the paragraph noting that two lawyers had indicated their opinion that she had mental problems.  A third attorney made a similar comment to me this morning, and others have in the past.)  It's hard not to feel sorry for Mr. Murphy, too, although if he made the homophobic comments attributed to him he's probably well off the bench.)  I've never met either one, by the way, or even talked to either on the phone.  I have no dog in this fight.  The whole thing just makes me sad -- and I hope it doesn't cost too much administrative time for the state and the third judicial district to defend a lawsuit by Ms. Schultz if one ever results.]  


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