On Friday, May 19, 2023, the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States denied the petition of former District of New Mexico Magistrate Judge Carmen E. Garza for review of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit’s order of September 14, 2022, wherein the latter revealed that the New Mexico’s district court judges voted against the reappointment of the respondent due to complaints of abusive workplace behavior against her.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Carmen E. Garza,” with case no. 22-02.

According to the Judicial Council’s order, Judge Garza violated the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, 28 U.S.C.§§351-364 by engaging in abusive conduct. Two former law clerks and two anonymous individuals filed a misconduct complaint, essentially alleging that Judge Garza’s behavior created an abusive and hostile work environment.

The Special Committee left no stone unturned as they conducted a thorough investigation into the conduct of Judge Garza. Their diligent efforts involved conducting interviews with every full-time employee who had ever served under Judge Garza, including law clerks, judicial assistants, and courtroom deputies. Additionally, they interviewed four of her judicial colleagues and three individuals possessing pertinent knowledge related to the investigation. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of these employees requested anonymity, highlighting the sensitive nature of the matter.

The investigation further encompassed the examination of various documents provided by both the interviewees and Judge Garza herself, along with other relevant pieces of information. As the evidence started to accumulate, the special committee began to discern a consistent pattern of misconduct that spanned the entirety of Judge Garza’s 16-year tenure. The source, nature, and striking consistency of the testimonies provided by witnesses who had worked under Judge Garza gave the special committee valid grounds to believe that she had indeed engaged in misconduct warranting disciplinary action.

The report states:

“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.”

The  report 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.”

In an intriguing turn of events, investigators from the special committee reached out to Judge Garza to communicate their early findings and arranged a meeting with her. Interestingly, Judge Garza’s tenure was set to conclude shortly after the scheduled interview, adding an air of significance to the proceedings. After the meeting with the investigators, Judge Garza contacted them once again, but this time with a change of heart. She informed them of her decision to withdraw from the committee interview and to retract her request for reappointment.

Prior to Judge Garza’s withdrawal, she took the initiative to share the special committee’s preliminary viewpoints with the district court judges in the District of New Mexico. This step aimed to apprise her colleagues of the committee’s initial assessments. In light of this revelation, the district judges conducted a vote regarding Judge Garza’s reappointment. Ultimately, the judges reached a decision, resulting in the unfavorable outcome of not granting Judge Garza’s reappointment.

After the 10th Circuit’s Judicial Council issued an order, Judge Garza submitted a petition for review to the committee. Her main objection was directed toward the 10th circuit’s handling of the institutional review. Judge Garza argues that the 10th circuit made findings and conclusions regarding the complaint despite the special committee not having completed its investigation into her alleged misconduct.

The judicial council clarifies that it did not make any findings of misconduct against Judge Garza and did not delve into the merits of the complaint lodged against her. While the order issued by the judicial council briefly mentioned the type of misconduct that the special committee preliminarily identified, it explicitly stated that a final order on the merits of the misconduct complaint could not be issued before Judge Garza’s term expired.

The Disposition states:

“Because the Judicial Council has made it clear in these proceedings that its Order did not intend to and does not make findings of misconduct against Judge Garza and did not reach the merits of the complaint filed against her, we deny the petition for review. Nonetheless, because the Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit undertook an institutional review and the scope of such reviews has not previously been delineated in the JC&D Rules or by this Committee, the Committee plans to undertake an examination into the permissible scope of such reviews when they are conducted within the JC&D complaint process and to provide guidance for future cases. For the foregoing reasons, the petition for review is denied.”

Judge Garza attended the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Judge Garza was a former Federal Magistrate Judge for the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico located at Pete V. Domenici U.S. Courthouse, New Mexico. Her info can be found on ballotpedia.org.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.