Judge to consider motion to move Bobby Willis trial out of San Juan County

Steve Garrison The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A district judge said Thursday he would need to review evidence before determining whether Bobby Willis' trial on charges of embezzlement, fraud and racketeering would be held in San Juan County.

Judge Louis DePauli Jr. did deny a request by defense attorney Joshua Boone that the charges against Willis, 43, be separated into two separate criminal cases. DePauli agreed with Assistant Attorney General Yvonne Chicoine that it would be more efficient and fair to prosecute the charges during a single two-week trial.

Willis was arraigned last summer in two separate criminal cases on accusations he stole millions of dollars in cash and assets from Mike Atchison and Quentin Smith. He is also accused of fraud, embezzlement, securities fraud and racketeering in connection to the dissolution of New Mexico Title Co. in 2012.

Boone argued Thursday that Willis would be unable to receive a fair trial in San Juan County due to, among other things, the significant amount of press coverage Willis' cases have received since he was criminally charged in August 2012.

Boone told the judge alleged victims in the case have been quoted in news articles as saying Willis is a "nefarious human being" and a "con man."

Willis also has been compared unfavorably to the Addams Family character "Uncle Fester" and "human excrement" by online commentators, Boone said.

Boone alleged that New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas also made prejudicial statements when he visited Farmington during the dissolution of New Mexico Title Co. in May 2012. Balderas was then the New Mexico state auditor.

"I'm guessing now Attorney General Hector Balderas isn't going to come back and say, 'I'm sorry,'" Boone said.

Chicoine said in rebuttal that Balderas was commenting on the collapse of New Mexico Title Co. during his 2012 visit to Farmington, not the criminal charges against Willis.

She also said that news coverage of the case has been limited in the past year and, while community members may be familiar with Willis, that does not mean they are prejudiced against him.

"Familiarity with the defendant and contempt are not the same," she said.

DePauli said he would review the news articles Boone submitted as evidence and make a determination about whether to change the trial's venue after a "short period of time."

Chicoine said it would be "almost impossible" for the state to try Willis before the end of the year.

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.