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State AG's Office files charges against suspended Aztec Magistrate Court judge
Connie Johnston facing 12 counts of interference with communications
FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Attorney General's Office has filed a criminal complaint with 13 charges against suspended Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Connie Johnston, accusing her of recording telephone conversations within the courthouse.
The office of state Attorney General Hector Balderas filed the criminal complaint and summons in the Eleventh Judicial District Court this morning, according to a copy of the complaint obtained through a records request.
It contains six charges of interference with communications (reading or copying a telegraph or telephone communication of another), six charges of interference with communications (using apparatus or aiding another to violate act) and one count of violating the ethical principles of public service in the state Governmental Conduct Act, according to the complaint.
No hearings have been set in district court regarding the case.
Numerous attempts to reach Johnston today by phone for comment were unsuccessful.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office, said in a statement the complaint is a result of a referral from law enforcement and an investigation by the AG's Office.
The charges focus on six instances in which Johnston allegedly recorded telephone calls involving Aztec Magistrate Court manager Lori Proctor that likely were recorded within a secure (nonpublic) area of the courthouse, according to court documents.
As part of the investigation, the AG's Office received a USB drive containing audio recordings and document/text files that Johnston allegedly made that were obtained during the discovery process of a civil case she is currently facing.
That lawsuit was filed on Feb. 26, 2016, in district court on allegations that Johnston placed recording devices in several areas of the courthouse.
Johnston was found in civil contempt by District Judge Sarah Backus in March after Johnston violated a court order by not providing all the recordings and transcripts made in the courthouse.
The telephone calls featuring Proctor that allegedly were recorded by Johnston include conversations with a family member, an employee of the New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts, an Aztec Magistrate Court clerk and Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Barry Sharer.
In the probable cause statement, multiple people allegedly recorded by Johnston stated they did not give their consent to have the telephone conversation recorded and did not believe they had reason to believe their calls would be recorded.
Some of the people also added they had an expectation of privacy when speaking to court personnel on the telephone, according to court documents.
The criminal complaint also states Johnston's conduct as judge and subsequent behavior while suspended "illustrates her unwillingness to act with integrity, while meeting the high ethical responsibilities of public office."
The charges from the AG's Office are one of four cases pending against Johnston in district court and the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Johnston faces a misdemeanor contempt-of-court charge in district court stemming from the court order from Backus in March. A hearing on the case scheduled for May 24 was postponed.
The case in state Supreme Court was based on a petition filed by the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission to removed Johnston from her judicial office.
The state Supreme Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case Monday, but the hearing was postponed.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.