Aragon resigns as municipal court judge

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Copyright © 2012, Valencia County News-Bulletin

Los Lunas Judge Jeff Aragon has given Mayor Robert Vialpando a verbal intent to resign from his post as municipal judge.

Jeff Aragon: Resigned from office

The mayor, village administrator and Aragon met Friday, July 7, to discuss a transition plan.

“My understanding is an official resignation letter will come from an attorney that he (Aragon) has hired,” said Los Lunas Village Administrator Greg Martin. “The village is essentially waiting for the letter to be sent in order to officially accept that resignation.”

Aragon is still technically presiding in his judicial position, Martin said.

Aragon declined to comment on the matter when asked for an interview by the News-Bulletin.

“Not at this time, I have court schedules,” Aragon said Friday. “If, and (when) I need to make a statement, OK, if and (when), remember that, I will contact you.”

Aragon began his career as the municipal court judge when he was elected in March 2002 after serving on the council for 12 years. He was re-elected as municipal judge in March 2010.

“We’re going through a process right now,” said Vialpando. “It hasn’t really been completed yet.”

The mayor confirmed that the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission is investigating Aragon.

Randall Roybal, executive director of the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission, said he could not confirm or deny whether there was such an investigation. He said ongoing investigations remain confidential until there is a public filing with the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Roybal said the commission doesn’t have a specific time period to file any such complaint with the court.

“With any matter, we want to take great care and be thorough and complete,” Roybal said.

Vialpando said the village is still dealing with the issue of alternate judges should Aragon be unable to preside over court cases.

“There are pro-tem judges that could fill in,” Vialpando said.

The three alternate judges are Avilo Chavez, E.J. Jaramillo and Phillip “Shorty” Romero.

Romero, who ran for magistrate judge in the past, said “he might have to take a look” at a judgeship position if it was offered to him. He said no one from the village has contacted him to discuss a potential opening.

Chavez and Jaramillo could not be reached by News-Bulletin press time.

Along with the investigation by the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission, a complaint for a civil restraining order was requested by Los Lunas Chief Court Clerk Denise LeDoux against Aragon.

A temporary restraining order was granted and filed on July 6 in the 13th Judicial District Court.

LeDoux claims Aragon threatened her after she gave a deposition to the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission on a case involving the judge, according to the complaint.

The complaint said Aragon told the clerk to resign and told her that her last day of work would be July 6. LeDoux claims he told her that he resigned from elected office and that his last day would be the same as her final day with the municipal court.

According to LeDoux’s complaint, Aragon said, “I am the judge and I am telling you that you will resign. Don’t you dare show up to work tomorrow (on June 28).”

LeDoux claims there has been a hostile work environment at the municipal court and that Aragon’s “abuse of power has gone on” for years.

“I am asking for this order to be imposed due to my mental health,” LeDoux wrote. “I do not want to be harassed, stalked or contacted in any way, shape or form by Jeff Aragon or his family. The abuse of power has gone on for the past eight years, but it has to end immediately.”

LeDoux alleges in the complaint that on June 27, Aragon asked her to leave work and to go for a drive with him the day after she gave her disposition to the commission.

When she refused, according to the complaint, Aragon questioned her about what information she gave to the commission when she was interviewed on another occasion.

“I go into his office and he begins questioning what information I gave to judicial standards on or about six months prior when I was interviewed by them,” LeDoux wrote. “I answered his questions and he then begins accusing me of being the person ‘who turned him in.’”

The complaint said Aragon asked other employees of LeDoux’s whereabouts a day after instructing her not to come into work.

According to the complaint, Los Lunas Human Resources Director Christine Nardi told Aragon that LeDoux would not report to work for an “undisclosed” amount of time under the Family Medical Leave Act.

LeDoux said she was forced to change her phone number “for fear of harassing text messages and or phone calls from Jeff Aragon insisting that I turn in my resignation.”

“(Aragon) has forced me to leave my home as well as Valencia County for fear of running into (him),” the complaint states. “I am in fear for my safety as well as my child’s safety.”

Martin said terms in the temporary restraining order indicate the conditions that Aragon must comply with.

The restraining order, signed by District Judge William Sanchez, says Aragon “shall not threaten, alarm, annoy, stalk or harass” LeDoux or her household members.

Aragon is ordered to stay at least 100 yards away from LeDoux’s home and workplace and not contact or attempt to contact her in any way.

“Those involved need to be the ones to make sure it is complied with,” Martin said. “As far as the village is concerned, our role is just to assist.

“All I can say is we have received a verbal resignation and are working toward a smooth transition to a new judge subject to the approval of the mayor and council,” Martin said. “And in the meantime assisting, because the restraining order was really a separate issue, I guess, from the resignation itself, but happened to show up at around the same time.

“So, we just want to make sure that all involved can comply with that.”

The earliest the village will be able to present a municipal judge transition plan before the council will be Thursday, July 26, Martin said.

“But of course, there are things that can be done to operate with or without a sitting judge in terms of the court operations,” Martin said. “We’re trying to work that out.”

A hearing on the restraining order has been set for 10:30 a.m., Friday, July 27, before Special Commissioner Charles Sanchez. He is expected to determine whether the restraining order will become permanent.