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State Supreme Court removes magistrate judge Johnston from bench
Johnston also banned from holding a judicial office statewide.
FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Supreme Court has removed suspended Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Connie Johnston from judicial office and have permanently barred her from holding a judicial office statewide.
The decision was rendered this afternoon at a hearing in the Supreme Court building in Santa Fe, according to Farmington-based attorney Steve Murphy.
Multiple attempts today to reach Johnston by phone for comment were unsuccessful. Johnston has previously denied the accusations and any wrongdoing.
The Judicial Standards Commission filed a petition on April 10 with the state Supreme Court to remove Johnston after the eight commissioners determined Johnston had violated the state's Code of Judicial Conducts eight times.
A hearing was initially scheduled for July 24 but it was postponed, according to court documents.
Today's hearing lasted nearly 90 minutes, according to Murphy. The Supreme Court justices deliberated for about 25 minutes before giving their order.
The April 10 petition by the Judicial Standards Commission said the commissioners believed Johnston's actions did substantial harm to the public perception and operations of the Aztec Magistrate Court, according to a copy of the petition.
Johnston was initially charged with 15 charges of violating the state's Code of Judicial Count and suspended without pay on Feb. 10, 2016, following a hearing in the state Supreme Court.
The Judicial Standards Commission filed a petition on Feb. 4, 2016, alleging willful misconduct in office.
Removing a judge from the bench is a "rare" recommendation, Randall Roybal, executive director and general counsel for the Judicial Standards Commission, previously told The Daily Times.
A message left for Roybal today was not returned.
Rio Arriba Magistrate Judge Thomas Rodella was the last magistrate judge removed from office by the state Supreme Court in 2008.
Johnston was initially suspended with pay in December 2015 by the state Supreme Court after Johnston ordered court clerk Amy Verholst be jailed for contempt. That order was later reversed by the high court.
Murphy filed a complaint in December 2015 on behalf of Verholst with the Judicial Standards Commission.
Governor Susana Martinez will appoint a new judge to fill the remainder of Johnston's term, according to state statute.
Johnston was appointed to the Division 1 magistrate judge seat on Aug. 15, 2014, by Martinez.
She was elected to a four-year term in November 2014 when she ran unopposed for the bench.
The term started on Jan. 1, 2015, and is set to end on Dec. 31, 2018, according to the San Juan County Clerk's website.
The New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts has not notified the Governor's Office about Johnston's removal from office as of this afternoon, according to spokesman Michael Lonergan.
Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.