UPDATED: Judge Naranjo suspended
Socorro Magistrate Court Judge Jim Naranjo Jr. has been suspended from office without pay pursuant to an agreement with the Judicial Standards Commission, a commission representative reported Friday.
According to the disciplinary order issued by the New Mexico Supreme Court on Friday, Naranjo is suspended without pay for 90 days, effective April 22, with 60 days deferred on the condition he successfully completes the supervised probation term imposed by the court.
Documents filed in the case state Naranjo called 7th Judicial District Court Judge Matthew Reynolds on Aug. 28, 2012, and asked Reynolds to reduce the bond for Albert Hernandez or let him out of jail. Hernandez, Naranjo’s stepson, was in jail at the time for nonpayment of child support.
At a hearing before the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission in Albuquerque on April 1, Naranjo told the commission he called Reynolds and requested his stepson be released to his custody, according to the record of the hearing filed in Supreme Court.
Naranjo admitted to having the conversation with Reynolds in his response to the Judicial Standards Commission’s notice of preliminary investigation. Naranjo’s response, dated Dec. 17, 2012, states his intention was to let Judge Reynolds know that Hernandez was not a flight risk, and that Naranjo would personally make sure Hernandez showed up for court. Naranjo further stated he did not talk about anything else regarding the case, and had said nothing that would give any party an advantage in the case.
Court records indicate Reynolds recused himself from the case involving Hernandez on Aug. 28, 2012, and Judge Kevin Sweazea was assigned to it. Reynolds had presided over the case since December 2009.
Naranjo’s call regarding his stepson violates the Code of Judicial Conduct, according to documents filed in the case, and constitutes willful misconduct in office. It was an ex parte communication with a judge, meaning it was a conversation about a case without all parties being present. Naranjo also abused the prestige of his judicial office by trying to get favorable treatment for a family member and by vouching for that family member’s character.
The Supreme Court’s disciplinary order states the 60-day deferred suspension will be automatically imposed if Naranjo violates any terms of the order. It also states Naranjo will have to resign from office immediately and permanently if he causes a notice of formal proceedings to be issued in any matter while he is on probation.
The order states Naranjo must have formal mentorship for the remainder of his term as magistrate, which will begin when the Supreme Court appoints a mentor. He must also complete a National Judicial College online course, “Ethics and Judging: Reaching Higher Ground,” which he will attend at his own expense.