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