On Monday, November 13, 2023, the New Mexico Supreme Court publicly censured Third District Judge James Martin of Las Cruces for misconduct during a 2021 trial.
The case is entitled “In the Matter of Judge James Martin,” with case number S-1-SC-39746.
According to the filing, Judge Martin admitted to violating the following New Mexico Rules of Judicial Conduct:
Rule 21-101 NMRA (requiring compliance with the law).
Rule 21-102 NMRA (promoting confidence in the judiciary).
Rule 21-103 NMRA (avoiding abuse of the prestige of judicial office).
Rule 21-204(B) NMRA (prohibiting influence of family relationships on judicial conduct).
Rule 21-206 NMRA (ensuring the right to be heard).
Rule 21-210 NMRA (regarding a judge’s prohibition on making statements on pending or impending cases).
The filing stated that Judge Martin provided advice to prosecutors during the trial of Robert Burnham, who was accused of pointing an assault rifle at Judge Martin’s daughter outside a Las Cruces bar in 2018.
Specifically, after the first day of the two-day jury trial in 2021, Judge Martin contacted Assistant District Attorney Samuel Rosten and told him to use the phrase “brandished a firearm” instead of “pointed a firearm” in the jury instructions regarding how the weapon was allegedly used against the judge’s daughter. The prosecution followed this advice the next day. Judge Martin had recused himself from the trial, which was instead presided over by Judge Steven Blankinship of the 12th District.
Following Burnham’s subsequent conviction, Judge Martin improperly asked prosecutors if Burnham had been remanded to custody awaiting sentencing. When told he had, Judge Martin stated “Good thing he was remanded, otherwise I would have told you to go back in there and try again.” His daughter was also improperly present for this conversation. Judge Martin allowed his daughter to wait in his chambers while she was waiting to testify in the trial.
In its November 13 decision, the New Mexico Supreme Court publicly censured Judge Martin for these actions, determining they created an appearance of impropriety. While Judge Martin denied committing willful misconduct, he acknowledged upon reflection that his conduct could be perceived as improper.
The Supreme Court stressed the importance of judicial independence, fairness, and impartiality. Burnham is currently appealing his 2021 conviction. The censure order did not provide further penalties but aimed to remind judges of their responsibilities to avoid even the perception of bias.
Judge Martin was appointed to the bench in August 2005 and was elected to the position the following year. He was retained in 2008 and 2014. Judge Martin’s courtroom is located at 201 W Picacho Ave, Las Cruces, NM 88005, and can be reached at 575-523-8200.
A copy of the original filing can be found here.