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Supreme Court of New Mexico

June 22, 2005

IN THE MATTER OF SUSANA CHAPARRO, Magistrate Judge, Doña Ana County, New Mexico INQUIRY CONCERNING A JUDGE NO. 2003-82, consolidated for purposes of final disposition with NOS. 2002-26 and 2002-43

          James A. Noel, Esq. Albuquerque, New Mexico for Judicial Standards Commission Ray Twohig, Esq. Albuquerque, New Mexico for Respondent

          FORMAL REPRIMAN

          PER CURIAM.

         {¶1} This matter is before the Court on a Petition for Discipline filed by the Judicial Standards Commission (Commission) against Respondent, Magistrate Judge Susana Chaparro. This is the third disciplinary matter involving Respondent. The first two matters (Nos. 2002-26 & 2002-43) were consolidated and resulted in Respondent being formally reprimanded on April 15, 2003, with the requirement that she participate in a mentorship program. The formal reprimand was published in the New Mexico Bar Bulletin on May 8, 2003. The violations that gave rise to the April 15, 2003, formal reprimand arose from ex parte communications Respondent had with a judge presiding over a writ case involving Respondent, and from a controversy involving court interpreters. Important to our disposition of the present disciplinary matter is the fact that Respondent agreed to enter into a Plea and Stipulation Agreement regarding these two matters on February 7, 2003, the very day she was engaged in the conduct giving rise to the present disciplinary matter.

         {¶2} The present disciplinary matter arises out of Respondent's involvement in her son's citation for speeding and no proof of insurance. The citation was ultimately dismissed on February 7, 2003, due to the officer's failure to appear. This dismissal took place despite the District Attorney entering an appearance in the case and the officer requesting a continuance of the trial due to a conflict created by his attendance at a mandatory training class for sheriff's officers. As illustrated by the findings of the Commission, from the day after her son was cited for speeding to the date of the dismissal of the citation, Respondent directly involved herself in the criminal proceedings involving her son by contacting the sheriff to complain about how her son was allegedly mistreated, accessing her son's file through private requests to the clerk's office, calling the presiding judge's clerk to reschedule a hearing due to her son experiencing car trouble, and attending hearings with her son, where members of the public were present, including the scheduled trial where the citation was ultimately dismissed.

         {¶3} Respondent does not contest the Commission's findings. The only issue before this Court is whether the findings support a conclusion that Respondent's conduct constituted willful misconduct in office. We are convinced that Respondent's conduct as described hereinafter in the Commission's findings did constitute willful misconduct in office. Based on the Respondent's history of misconduct, and after reviewing other Commission dispositions for similar conduct, we reject the Commission's recommended discipline and impose greater discipline than recommended as hereinafter set forth. See In re Sanchez, Vol. 38, No. 36, SBB13 (N.M. 1999); In re Perea, Vol. 38, No. 36, SBB 14 (N.M. 1999).

         {¶4} We emphasize that our ultimate disposition was tempered by Commission finding number 29, that Respondent did not communicate directly with the presiding judge regarding her son's case prior to the scheduled trial date of February 7, 2003. This finding was made despite testimony by the presiding judge that the day before the scheduled trial, Respondent had talked to him regarding a pending request for a continuance from the sheriff in her son's case. Had the Commission found that Respondent had communicated with the presiding judge about her son's case prior to the scheduled trial, the discipline we hereinafter impose would have been greater. However, having read the entire record, we have chosen to accept all of the findings of the Commission, particularly since the findings are not contested.

         {¶5} The Commission conducted a trial from February 7-9, 2005, pursuant to N.M. Const, art. VI, § 32, NMSA 1978, § 34-10-2.1 (enacted by Laws 1977), and the Commission Rules. The Commission heard testimony of twenty witnesses and considered and reviewed all exhibits admitted into evidence. Eight Commissioners participated in the hearing, deliberation, decision, and adoption of findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation.

         {¶6} The Commission issued findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation for discipline on March 15, 2005. This Court hereby adopts the Commission's findings of fact as enumerated below:

1. Respondent, Honorable Susana Chaparro, was elected Magistrate Judge of Doña Ana County, New Mexico, in 1998 and was re-elected in 2002.
2. The notice of formal proceedings was issued and filed on January 5, 2004.
3. Respondent's unverified response to the notice of formal proceedings was filed on January 22, 2004. The response put each count at issue.
4. A first amended notice of formal proceedings was issued and filed on January 12, 2005.
5. Respondent's verified response to the amended notice of formal proceedings was filed on February 1, 2005. The response put each count at issue.
6. On the evening of August 29, 2002, Respondent's son, Michael Benavidez, was cited by a Doña Ana County Deputy Sheriff A. J. Rodriguez for speeding and for not having proof of insurance. The matter was styled State of New Mexico vs. Benavidez, Doña Ana County Magistrate Court Cause Number M-14-TR-200205837.
7. On August 30, 2002, Respondent contacted Doña Ana County Sheriff Juan Hernandez about her son's allegations that Deputy Sheriff Rodriguez mistreated him and his passengers and held them ...

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