A federal judge left a Las Cruces courthouse amid investigation. Here’s why

Justin Garcia
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – A special committee found that Carmen Garza, a former federal magistrate judge in Las Cruces, created a hostile work environment for more than a decade on the bench.

The Judicial Council of the 10th Circuit released the investigation findings in September. They said four of Garza’s former employees came forward with allegations, triggering an investigation.

Garza, a judge in Las Cruces’ federal magistrate court since 2006, ended her two-term tenure on the bench in August 2022.

Unlike federal district judges, whom the U.S. Senate appoints, federal magistrate judges are appointed and serve eight-year terms. In 2018, Garza served as the court’s chief judge. Magistrate judges oversee preliminary hearings in federal criminal cases. They can also handle trials in civil cases and misdemeanor cases.

Once the allegations surfaced, Timothy M. Tymkovich, chief judge of the 10th circuit, appointed a committee to investigate the allegations. According to the committee’s report, investigators interviewed every person who’s ever worked for Garza. They also questioned her judicial colleagues.

Committee's report on Carmen Garza | PDF | United States Federal Judge | Hostile Work Environment

“Nearly all of Judge Garza’s employees indicated that she engaged in hostile behavior, including unpredictable outbursts, manipulation, threats of termination (or actual termination), and harmful statements,” the committee reported.

Several of Garza’s employees told investigators they held back on reporting misconduct because they relied on Garza as a reference for future jobs.

“Several of these witnesses were also very reluctant to participate in the misconduct investigation for the same reasons,” the report stated. “Some had not worked in Judge Garza’s chambers for years and had even moved out of state but were still reticent to participate.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza, speaks during, "A Celebration Women Win the VOTE," during a 2010 event at the Ramada Palms de Las Cruces.

In the end, all of Garza’s former and current employees agreed to speak with investigators, according to the report. However, most requested anonymity.

“The employees’ fears may not have been unfounded,” the report stated.

As the investigation became known to Garza, her employees told investigators that Garza used her final days on the bench to retaliate against a few employees.

In September, Garza told the Washington Post that the allegations were unfounded. Since Garza left the court before the investigation concluded, the 10th circuit said it was powerless to sanction or punish Garza.

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Justin Garcia is a public safety reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at