Judge: Pay to play scheme ‘over with now’

Secret tape part of whistleblower lawsuit

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Las Cruces district court Judge Lisa Schultz’s attorney says work is an awfully lonely place these days.

“She’s basically been iced out of the judiciary,” said Bryan Davis, who’s representing Schultz in a whistleblower lawsuit against the state. “Her life is not good down there. She still is sort of on an island.”

Davis says Schultz has been on that island ever since she played a key role in bringing down a former colleague, Judge Michael Murphy.

Both Schultz and Murphy were appointed to the bench by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson in 2006.

According to an indictment, Murphy bragged he had paid off Richardson fundraiser Edgar Lopez to get his judgeship and told another judicial candidate she needed to do the same if she wanted to be considered for a spot too.

Davis says when Schultz heard about it, she decided to step in.

“She just wanted to do the right thing,” Davis said. “She believed that this conduct was unethical and illegal.”

So Schultz secretly carried an audio recorder with her and captured conversations with Murphy and other court staff.

In an August 2010 recording, Schultz asks Murphy about the pay to play scheme.

“You guys had mentioned to judicial candidates that it would help their chances to give money to Edgar Lopez and thence to the Governor,” Schultz said to Murphy in the recording.

“Yeah of course that’s over with now because we’re going to have a new governor,” Murphy responded, referring to then-Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez.

A few minutes later, Murphy denies doing anything wrong when asked by Schultz if any “funny business” is still going on.

“Well it wasn’t funny before,” Murphy tells Schultz on the recording. “The fact of the matter is if you don’t position yourself right for a gubernatorial appointment …”

Murphy then speculates on who Martinez would appoint if elected.

Schultz brought the tape to prosecutors and Murphy was charged with felony bribery. He eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor last April and avoided jail time. His plea deal prevents him from being a judge in New Mexico ever again.

In a whistleblower lawsuit filed last year, Schultz claims she was retaliated against for cooperating with prosecutors. She says she was given an unmanageable case load.

“I think the evidence will show that there was a network of judges and others that were trying to force my client off the bench by making her life miserable,” Davis said.

News 13 reached out for comment on the lawsuit Monday from the Administrative Office of the Courts, but that office was closed Monday. However, in the state’s filed response to the lawsuit, it questions whether Schultz is truly a whistleblower and denies there was any retaliation from her cooperation with prosecutors.

The lawsuit is still in its early stages and Davis doesn’t expect it to go to trial until next year.

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