New Mexico judge accused of secretly recording private conversations

A suspended New Mexico magistrate court judge accused in a lawsuit of secretly recording private conversations at a courthouse is now facing a criminal complaint, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office confirmed Friday.

The office filed a criminal complaint and summons against suspended Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Connie Johnston in the Eleventh Judicial District Court in San Juan County, attorney general spokesman James Hallinan said. “This complaint is the result of a referral from local law enforcement and a subsequent investigation by the Office of the Attorney General,” Hallinan said.

The complaint accuses Johnston of six counts of reading or copying a telegraph or telephone communication of another and violating the Governmental Conduct Act.

According to the complaint, Johnston secretly recorded conversations of staff from August 2014 to December 2015. Some of those conversations involved attorney-client privilege while others were of personal matters of co-workers.

“Were it not for Johnston’s position as a judge, she would not have had access to the secure area of the courthouse to record these telephone calls and messages,” the complaint said.

Johnston’s attorney, Sean Olivas, did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press.

The New Mexico Supreme Court suspended Johnston in 2015 from her position as an Aztec Magistrate Court judge after she ordered a court clerk who wouldn’t leave her courtroom to be arrested and jailed for contempt.

In March, a district court judge found Johnston in contempt after she failed to provide recordings and transcripts of private conversations captured in the Aztec Magistrate Court building in connection with a lawsuit. That lawsuit filed last year by co-workers said Johnston placed recording devices in more than a dozen areas, including restrooms, judges’ offices and an attorney-client conference room.

 Johnston previously told The Daily Times that magistrate court clerks harassed her because she refused to order inappropriate sentences.

The New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission also is investigating allegations she committed 15 violations of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct since her appointment to the bench in August 2014.

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