Judge to rule on motions in Willis case

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

AZTEC — A district judge will decide next week whether the trial of Bobby Willis will take place in San Juan County.

Willis, 43, was charged in August 2012 in San Juan County with four counts of felony fraud, embezzlement, securities fraud and racketeering in connection to the dissolution of the New Mexico Title Co. in 2012.

He was charged in a separate criminal case in August 2012 with one count of embezzlement on accusations he stole millions of dollars in cash and assets from investors Mike Atchison and Quentin Smith.

Willis' attorney, Joshua Boone, claims in a motion to change venue that was filed July 31 that his client would be unable to receive a fair trial in San Juan County due to the community having "a great deal of hostility" toward him.

Boone cites as community prejudice the "tremendous amount of negative press" published by local news organizations, including The Daily Times, since Willis' arrest.

He also states that New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas made prejudicial statements when he visited Farmington during the dissolution of New Mexico Title Co. in May 2012.

Balderas, who was then the New Mexico state auditor, allegedly said during his visit to Farmington the dissolution of New Mexico Title Co. was a "fiasco" and a "tragic case," the motion states.

According to the motion, Balderas also said, "The citizens [of Farmington] deserve swift action. It not only hurts the immediate victims; it really sets the tone for the reputation of a community. It's important that you have zero tolerance approach."

Boone could not be reached for comment.

The attorney general's spokesman, James Hallinan, said Eleventh Judicial District Judge Louis DePauli will hear arguments on the motion to change venue and another motion to hold separate trials for the two criminal cases on Sept. 24.

According to court records, the cases were enjoined July 1.

Hallinan did not respond to follow-up questions regarding the motion to change venue, but the state said in a response to the motion filed Aug. 12 that Boone failed to provide any evidence to support his claims of bias.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.