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Charges reinstated against New Mexico judge alleged to pay for seat

In a surprising reversal of his earlier dismissal of four felony charges against District Judge Michael Murphy of Las Cruces, District Judge Leslie Smith reinstated those charges yesterday, setting a trial date of February 5.

In an ongoing saga that looked to have run out of steam a month ago after four of five felony counts against Murphy were dismissed, Smith’s reversal marks a victory of sorts for District Attorney Matt Chandler of Clovis, whose office has accused Murphy of informing a prospective judicial candidate that she needed to pay for a seat on the bench. Allegedly, she also told another judge about a $4,000 donation made in 2006 to to ensure his judgeship appointment.

Smith said yesterday that he reinstated the past four felony charges because he’d been unaware prosecutors had not participated in the immunity hearing overseen by Robinson. “Failing to provide complete information,” Smith warned both attorneys in the case, “can be just as misleading to a court as purposefully giving inaccurate information.”

Murphy has denied any wrongdoing, but taped conversations between himself and another Las Cruces judge, Lisa Schultz, have begun to haunt not just Murphy but other judges and former judges throughout the state whose names have also come up in the case — as either witnesses or those who have knowledge of some of the events and conversations leading up to Murphy’s indictment in May.

For example, in a 43-minute conversation between Murphy and Schultz from November 10 of last year, which had been secretly recorded by Schultz, Murphy expressed several times to Schultz her reasons for a chief judge candidate he wanted elected and why doing so would be in her best interest. Chandler has argued that these remarks signified attempted bribery. Murphy’s attorney Michael Stout has maintained that Murphy was simply lobbying, and therefore there was no wrongdoing or unlawful intent.

That lone remaining charge had been all that had been left of the overall charges against Murphy until yesterday.

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