INQUIRY CONCERNING A JUDGE NO. 2005-095. IN THE MATTER OF HONORABLE HECTOR PINEDA, Municipal Judge, City of Roswell, New Mexico
A. Noel, Esq. Randall D. Roybal, Esq. Albuquerque, New Mexico
For Judicial Standards Commission
Atwood, Malone, Turner & Sabin, P.A. Steven Bell, Esq.
This matter comes before the Court on a petition for
discipline filed by the Judicial Standards Commission
(Commission) concerning the Honorable Hector Pineda
(Respondent). Respondent stipulated to factual findings
contained in the petition. He did not agree that his actions
violated the New Mexico Code of Judicial Conduct nor assent
to the sanctions recommended by the Commission. Having heard
oral argument, we granted the Commission's petition and
ordered, among other sanctions recommended by the Commission,
this formal public reprimand.
Respondent is a full-time judge for the Roswell Municipal
Court. This matter arises out of actions Respondent took
while acting in that capacity.
Respondent's misconduct began when he implemented his own
rule that precluded individuals from appearing before him
unless they first presented photographic identification. His
photo-identification rule applied to all citizens, ranging
from those attempting to appear as defendants in criminal or
traffic matters, to those attempting to appear as legal
guardians for minors, to individuals seeking civil marriages.
Some months after Respondent effectuated his rule, a
defendant in a criminal case attempted to appear
approximately ten minutes early for his trial but was advised
by municipal court staff that he needed photo-identification
before he could appear in Respondent's courtroom. The
defendant left the courthouse to obtain a new driver's
license but did not return in time for his trial. Staff
advised Respondent that the defendant had arrived but had
left to obtain a driver's license in order to comply with
the photo-identification rule. Respondent construed the
defendant's absence as a failure to appear for his trial.
The defendant returned to the courthouse that same day less
than an hour after the time the trial was to have begun.
Staff told him that Respondent was out and that he should
come back the next morning.
When the defendant returned the next morning as instructed,
he was arrested on a bench warrant that had been issued by
Respondent. Respondent set the defendant's bond at $1,
000 cash only. The defendant's inability to post bond
resulted in his incarceration.
Both Respondent's unauthorized implementation of his own
rule and his application of that rule in the specific
situation set forth above violated multiple provisions of the
Code of Judicial Conduct and constitute willful misconduct in
office. See Rule 21-100 NMRA; Rule 21-200(A) NMRA;
Rule 21-300(B)(2), (7)-(8) NMRA. A judge cannot adopt
procedural rules not approved by the Supreme Court.
See Rule 23-106(I) NMRA (setting forth the Supreme
Court's rule-making procedures). Nor can a judge preclude
an individual who has every right-and an obligation-to appear
in court from appearing, and then punish that person for
failing to meet his or her obligation to appear. See
N.M. Const, art. II, § 13 (prohibiting imposition of
excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment);
id. art. II, § 18 (guaranteeing due process and
equal protection of law); id. art. II, § 19
(prohibiting ex post facto laws).
Respondent's actions harmed the defendant who attempted
to appear before him. Respondent improperly denied the
defendant his right to be heard according to the law.
See Rule 21-300(B)(7) ("A judge shall accord to
every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or
that person's lawyer, the right to be heard according to
the law."). But in even more concrete terms, the
defendant was incarcerated, despite having appeared for a
scheduled hearing, based on a violation of a rule never
approved by this Court.
In addition to the personal impact on an individual,
Respondent's actions detrimentally impacted the
judiciary. Rule 23-106 establishes the process by which rules
governing court procedures are made, and the constitution of
this state establishes certain minimum protections of
individuals from the power of the government. By establishing
his own rule and applying that rule so as to cause a
defendant to fail to make a requisite appearance, and then
punishing that defendant for failing to appear, Respondent
failed to maintain and observe high standards of conduct,
failed to preserve the integrity of his judicial position,
and failed to respect, be faithful to, and comply with the
law. See Rule 21-100 ("A judge shall
participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high
standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those
standards so that the integrity and independence of the
judiciary will be preserved."); Rule 21-200(A) ("A
judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at
all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the
integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."); Rule
21-300(B)(2) ("A judge shall be faithful to the law and
maintain professional competence in it.").
Finally, Respondent's photo-identification rule and his
application of it carried ramifications for a system that
strives for prompt, efficient, and fair disposition of
matters that come before our courts. See Rule
21-300(B)(8) ("A judge shall dispose of all judicial
matters promptly, efficiently and fairly."). By denying
a defendant who attempted to come before him access to the
courtroom and to the judicial process, Respondent prolonged
that case. In so doing, ...