Jeff Aragon defends his judicial acts

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Former Los Lunas Municipal Judge Jeff Aragon said he resigned from the bench for fear that he would be removed from office amid allegations of willful misconduct.

Aragon said in an interview this week he was concerned about the first three counts of alleged misconduct and abuse of power in a petition filed by the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission.

According to the petition, Aragon's misconduct ranged from issuing an order that said a Los Lunas police officer would be arrested if he failed to show up for court to falsifying court documents.

The petition, filed on June 29, says Aragon abused his power in about 20 instances from 2010 to 2012.

The New Mexico Supreme Court accepted Aragon's resignation, which was effective on Friday, July 20.

The Supreme Court also ordered that Aragon "shall never seek, accept appointment to, or serve pro tempore for any New Mexico judicial office in the future."

Aragon said he resigned for "fear of the unknown," and said he was afraid he would lose 75 percent of his retirement if the New Mexico Supreme Court decided to remove him from office. He said fighting the petition could have cost him upwards of $50,000 in legal fees.

"I acknowledge that I wasn't a perfect judge," Aragon said. "Through this imperfection came errors in reference to counts one, two and three."

The first three counts involved a case, the village of Los Lunas v. Shantel Wright, where Aragon is alleged to have failed to inform Wright she was charged with contempt.

Wright was arrested and detained and then released a short time later as a favor to former Magistrate Tody Perea, according to the petition.

Aragon said Wright requested she do community service as a way to rectify a speeding ticket. On the day she was supposed to comply, he said Wright appeared in court and asked to pay the fine rather than complete the community service.

He denied the request and told the woman she would face a charge of contempt if she didn't comply with the ruling. The charge comes with possible jail time.

"She flat out said, 'If you are going to put me in jail, put me in jail because I'm not going to do community service," Aragon said.

He ordered the woman to appear in court the next day. Aragon said he ordered Wright to be held on the contempt charge for a period of 30 days.

"I don't know if it was right or wrong," Aragon said. "But I believe I was in my (jurisdiction) because I observed the contempt the day before. I had knowledge of her charge right then and there. It happened right there in front of me. That's my opinion."

According to Aragon, he released the woman five hours later as a favor to Perea.

"Justice is blind," Aragon said. "You can't allow influence and I was influenced…(Judge Perea is) someone who I respect and regard. (Sometimes) you allow the human perspective to tap into your being."

In another case, the petition contends Aragon issued an order to Los Lunas Police Officer Horacio De Anda for failure to appear in court, which said a warrant would be issued for his arrest if the officer failed to appear in court in April.

Aragon said the case involved a case that was an alleged identity theft and said he wanted the officer to explain why he didn't show up for court. He said he wasn't going to sign a warrant for the (officer's) arrest.

"In my opinion, this was beyond a moving violation," Aragon said. "This was an alleged identity theft. This family wanted answers. I wanted to know why he wasn't there. Why (wasn't the officer) here? Why (wasn't the officer) able to attend this hearing? It wasn't as the count says."

In another case, the village of Los Lunas v. Shayla Elkins-Whitehead, he ordered the woman to maintain a 3.0 grade point average while attending the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus for the fall semester of 2011.

He said the judgement was an attempt to help the woman better her life.

"Where is the abuse of power there?" Aragon asked.

In May 2012, he said the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission called his office within 10 minutes of a judgement and sentence of a man that he required to obtain his driver's license.

He said "someone instigated" the investigation against him who worked at the village of Los Lunas.

With the exception of the incident involving Perea, Aragon said he didn't intend to "make mistakes."

"Although I made errors, by no means were they willful," Aragon said. "Willful is intending to do it ― knowing your doing it."

Aragon put in a request asking the village council to approve public expenditures to cover his legal fees through Ahmad Assed & Associates.

He said the request for taxpayers to pay for his legal expenses is justified since he was an elected official for the village when the petition was filed.

Last Thursday, the matter was tabled by the Los Lunas Village Council.

The former judge said he is remorseful for his "mistakes" and said he became complacent and "should have been more of a student of the profession" during his tenure.

"I was not a perfect judge. I made errors," Aragon said. "… I wasn't perfect, but I wasn't horrible either."


-- Email the author at bruffner@news-bulletin.com.