Baca official removed from probate judge office

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Valencia County commissioners officially removed Valencia County Probate Judge Jaime J. Baca from the county's payroll on a 4-0 vote.

In late February, the New Mexico Supreme Court filed an order granting a petition for the immediate, temporary suspension of Baca after a criminal complaint was filed against him in December. The criminal complaint is in reference to Baca's arrest after an altercation with his 34-year-old girlfriend, Jeri Ortega. The judge is charged with battery on a household member, criminal damage to property and interference with communications, all misdemeanor violations.

County attorney Dave Pato told the commissioners that in its order, the Supreme Court said it would defer to the commission as to whether Baca would continue to be paid during his suspension. The order advised the commission that the court's general policy is to allow a judge who is temporarily suspended to continue receiving pay for the first 90 days, with no pay after.

"Ordinarily I would tell the commission that this board doesn't have authority to suspend any other elected official's pay," Pato said. "But (the Supreme Court) said you can, so you can."

Commissioner Alicia Aguilar said the county had "an elected official not performing his duties." All probate cases are being heard by the district court during Baca's suspension. He was elected probate judge in 2010.

The New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission petitioned the high court for Baca's suspension earlier this year "pending completion of the state's prosecution of the pending criminal complaint …" and the completion of commission's own investigation.

"(Baca) is alleged to have committed acts that may constitute willful misconduct in office," the petition reads.

The petition says the commission is conducting an investigation into Baca's conduct. Included in the public documents regarding the suspension is a response to the commission's petition from Baca. In it, he writes, "… a suspension before due process would be tenuous; I have been accused of committing a crime, not proven to be guilty."

Included in his response was an affidavit of non-prosecution from Ortega, which requests that all charges be dropped and the investigation be terminated.

In an interview with the News-Bulletin, New Mexico State Police Sgt. Damyan Brown said Baca, 31, and his girlfriend had left a party when an argument ensued while they were driving in Rio Communities.

After parking on the side of the street, she left the vehicle and Baca followed her, throwing her down, causing a slight bruise to her forehead and a minor cut to her left knee.

Brown said after throwing his girlfriend to the ground, Baca took the cell phone she was using to call police and threw it in the street.

Ortega was able to run to a residence and call police. When police arrived, the officer did find evidence that a battery was committed, but attempts to locate Baca were unsuccessful that night.

An arrest warrant was issued for Baca and he was arrested at 10 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at his house without incident, and was booked into the Valencia County Detention Center. He was released the next evening after posting bond.


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