First Judicial District Court Judge Jason Lidyard denied a request by District Attorney Marco Serna’s office to recuse himself from Henrietta Trujillo’s Northern New Mexico College embezzlement case.
Lidyard’s denial characterized the request—ostensibly made over concerns about the judge’s impartiality spurred by Lidyard’s September comments to the Santa Fe New Mexican on a plea deal he rejected—as covert “judge shopping.”
The request, signed by Assistant District Attorney Ihsan Ahmed, cited a Code of Judicial Standards section barring judges from making public statements that could impact a case and a New Mexico law requiring district judges to recuse themselves from cases in which their impartiality could be reasonably questioned. Ahmed wrote that the comments published in the newspaper could affect the outcome or impair the fairness of the case.
The rejected plea deal would have required Trujillo to repay the over $80,000 she admitted to embezzling in her former role as financial services director with a nine-year suspended sentence. Lidyard told the New Mexican that the deal was unfair when compared to petty shoplifters who acted under the influence and would be incarcerated for their crimes.
“I saw an inequity in the type of resolution that was being requested,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
His denial to recuse pointed to the fact Serna’s office filed a motion to excuse him from the case just over an hour after he shot down the plea deal, though the motion was withdrawn the next day. A motion for excusal would not require the agreement of a judge, but it cannot be filed after a judge has taken discretionary action in a case such as the plea deal hearing—presumably the cause for the motion’s withdrawal.
The withdrawn motion to remove Lidyard was filed prior to his interview with the New Mexican.
“The State’s true motivation for trying to remove this judge from this case is the rejection of the plea agreement and their desire to obtain another judge who might be willing to accept that agreement,” Lidyard wrote. “Such use of the preemptory challenge rule is improper and prohibited.”
Trujillo’s trial is set for a jury selection hearing Feb. 10 next year.