Suspended magistrate judge pleads not guilty in criminal case
Johnston accused of recording phone calls in courthouse
FARMINGTON — Suspended Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Connie Johnston has pleaded not guilty to 13 charges filed by the New Mexico Attorney General's Office that accused her of recording telephone conversations within the courthouse.
She waived her arraignment that was scheduled for Friday afternoon and entered a not guilty plea, according to court documents.
The criminal complaint lists six charges of interference with communications (using apparatus or aiding another to violate act), six charges of interference with communications (reading or copying a telegraph or telephone communication of another) and one count of violating the ethical principles of public service in the state Governmental Conduct Act.
The criminal case from the state AG's Office focuses on six instances in which Johnston is accused of recording telephone calls involving Aztec Magistrate Court manager Lori Proctor inside the courthouse, according to court documents.
Johnston was released on her own recognizance, according to court documents.
She is required to maintain weekly contact with her attorney Ray Twohig, ask the court's permission before traveling outside of the United States, make no contact with the alleged victims or witnesses in the case, other than her husband Brian Johnston, and not consume alcohol or illegal drugs as part of her conditions of release.
Johnston was also required to provide her current address in Rhode Island, according to court documents.
A three-day jury trial is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 5 in Aztec district court.
It is the second criminal case pending against Johnston.
Johnston is accused of a contempt-of-court charge in district court filed by the San Juan County District Attorney's Office. A hearing has not been scheduled for the case, according to court records.
District Judge Sarah Backus ruled Johnston violated a court order by failing to provide all recordings and transcripts of private conversations captured in the Aztec Magistrate Court building in a civil lawsuit.
A proposed settlement is being finalized in the lawsuit under which Johnston is expected to pay about $125,000, or more than half of the total settlement, projected to be more than $200,000 but less than $300,000, according to Steve Murphy, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
A hearing before the New Mexico Supreme Court has been rescheduled for Oct. 13 for oral arguments in a pending disciplinary case against Johnston.
The New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission filed a petition in April with the state Supreme Court to remove Johnston from her judicial office and permanently bar her from holding judicial office statewide.
Johnston was suspended without pay by the state Supreme Court after a Feb. 10, 2016, hearing.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.