Lawyer course

High Court suspends ABQ lawyer for challenging judge’s impartiality

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the indefinite suspension of the license of Albuquerque lawyer Victor Marshall over charges he brought against the impartiality of a former Court of Appeal judge in a major water rights case in 2009.

The judges delivered their decision after hearing arguments from Marshall, his lawyer and State Disciplinary Board lawyer Jane Gagné, who said Marshall’s allegation about Judge James Wechsler “hits the nail on the head. heart of the integrity of the judiciary “.

“There is absolutely no evidence on the record to support Mr. Marshall’s allegations against Judge Wechsler,” she added.

Gagné told the court that Marshall’s indefinite suspension would be at least a year, after which he could again seek the reinstatement of the New Mexico legal license he has held since 1975. He is also due to complete four hours of ethics training.

Lawyer Victor Marshall, here at a meeting in 2012, had his license suspended indefinitely on Wednesday. (Dean Hanson / Albuquerque Journal)

Marshall told judges he was “in search of the truth” after hearing rumors in the state legislature in 2018 that Wechsler had previously worked for the Navajo Nation, which Marshall said had reaped the benefits. a water rights by-law approved by Wechsler. in the San Juan River Basin, northwestern New Mexico. As it turned out, Wechsler was working for a legal services agency on the Navajo reservation in the early 1970s, not the Navajo Nation. Wechsler later claimed that there was no conflict requiring a challenge because he had never worked on the water case, but Marshall said the judge as counsel represented about 1 000 Navajo members during his three years with DNA Legal Services.

The judges, questioning lawyers on Wednesday, took particular umbrage at Marshall’s statement in an emergency motion filed after he learned of Wechsler’s prior employment. Marshall represented non-Indian water users at the time.

Since the judge never disclosed his previous employment after being appointed a pro tem judge in the water case, Marshall’s request for disclosure of the rumor indicated that “the public might reasonably wonder if the judge settled this case for his former client ”.

“One of my concerns is not so much that Mr. Marshall claimed Judge Wechsler had a conflict, but how he did it,” Judge Julie Vargas said during oral argument. She said Marshall accused the judge of things “of which there is no evidence.”

Judge Briana Zamora echoed these concerns, adding: “I am not suggesting that your client should not have investigated the matter; that’s how he handled it when he discovered these rumors.

Marshall told the court that his knowledge of the facts was incomplete at the time and that he wanted more information, hoping the case would be referred to the district court for discovery. But that did not happen.

“The situation arose because the required disclosure was not made years ago, it should have been and (under the law) it is the duty of a judge to make the disclosure and whether those disclosures had been made years ago, neither of us would be here, ”says Marshall.

Under the New Mexico Judicial Code of Conduct, a judge must disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality could reasonably be called into question.

Marshall also told the court that he never said Wechsler “settled the case”, but only wrote that the public could reasonably question whether the case was settled.

His attorney Jeff Baker told the court: “I agree that the way Mr. Marshall framed this hypothetical question was unintelligent. I think he could have phrased it differently and more gently if you will.

Gagné said that “no reasonable lawyer” would have made the same “reckless” allegations against a judge under the circumstances.

She changed her initial recommendation of public censorship to an indefinite suspension, as she said Marshall had continued to repeat the allegations “and there is no indication that Mr. Marshall learned any lessons from the experience.”

Baker told the court before his ruling that the suspension was “too punitive” and, in his experience, is generally reserved for lawyers who steal money from their clients, the government, third parties or in domestic violence cases. .

“I’m not aware that anyone was suspended for disrespecting a judge,” Baker said.

At one point, Chief Justice Michael Vigil asked Marshall “do you see a way in your heart to say you’re sorry you created this situation?” “

Marshall said he had “great respect” for Wechsler and “sincerely regrets this situation”, which he called embarrassing and traumatic to all parties.

But Marshall added, “I had to do what every lawyer should do… and raise the issue. I could have expressed it differently. The substance would have been the same.