On Wednesday, September 14, 2022, the Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit revealed in an order that New Mexico’s district court judges voted against the reappointment of District of New Mexico Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Garza due to complaints of abusive workplace behavior.

According to the Judicial Council’s order, Judge Garza violated the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, 28 U.S.C.§§351-364 (the Act) by engaging in abusive conduct.

The order reads”

“Two former law clerks and two anonymous individuals (who had also worked for Judge Garza) filed a misconduct complaint, essentially alleging that Judge Garza’s behavior created an abusive and hostile work environment. Judge Garza responded to the allegations, denying that she created a hostile work environment but also indicating her willingness to take appropriate corrective action. Because the hostile-work-environment issue was reasonably in dispute, Chief Judge Tymkovich appointed a Special Committee to determine the veracity of the allegations.”

Every full-time employee who had ever worked for Judge Garza was questioned as part of the “extensive” probe, along with four of her bench colleagues and three additional persons with knowledge pertinent to the Committee’s investigation.

The order continues:

“The source, nature, and consistency of the evidence from those witnesses who worked for Judge Garza spanning 16 years, the entirety of her tenure, gave the Special Committee reason to believe that she had engaged in sanctionable misconduct. Nearly all of the witnesses, from those who worked for Judge Garza early in her tenure to those who worked for her near the end of her appointment, consistently described similar patterns of conduct. Relying on the RJCD, the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, and analogous standards found in case law applying Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Special Committee determined that Judge Garza created what appeared to be an abusive and hostile work environment through a pattern of conduct. That conduct included: unpredictable and hypercritical outbursts; manipulation of staff to undermine judges and employees; frequent threats of termination or actual terminations; and derogatory and egregious statements about her own staff, other court employees, and judges. This behavior caused harm to the judges’ and employees’ reputations..”

The investigators for the Special Committee informed Judge Garza of the Committee’s early conclusions and arranged a time to speak with her. Coincidentally, Judge Garza’s tenure was due to end not long after the scheduled interview. Judge Garza called the investigators again after her meeting with them to let them know that she had changed her mind and would no longer be participating in the Committee interview and would be withdrawing her request for reappointment. Before Judge Garza withdrew her request, she advised the District of New Mexico’s district court judges of the Special Committee’s preliminary views. The district judges subsequently voted not to reappoint Judge Garza.

Because Judge Garza no longer has the job, the Judicial Council concluded the misconduct proceedings.

The order stated that:

“Because of timing constraints mandated by the RJCD, the Judicial Council was unable to issue a final order on the merits of the misconduct complaint before the expiration of Judge Garza’s term. Accordingly, the Judicial Council concludes the matter due to intervening events.”

After concluding its investigative efforts, the Special Committee turned its focus to identifying and addressing potential institutional issues related to the matter. The Committee identified two factors that permitted the apparent wrongdoing to continue: a lack of awareness about what constitutes abusive conduct or a hostile work environment and widespread fear of retaliation.

The order concluded:

“Although the District of New Mexico voted not to reappoint Judge Garza before the Judicial Council could take remedial action on the complaint, the district judges’ vote was a direct result of the complainants’ courage in reporting the alleged misconduct, the DWR’s guidance, and the Special Committee’s investigation. The Judiciary, including this Circuit, has made progress in the area of workplace conduct, but it is clear that there is more work to do. The Judicial Council will work with the Tenth Circuit’s Workplace Conduct Committee to determine what other measures should be taken to make this circuit an exemplary place to work.”

Judge Garza earned a law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.