The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office accused District Judge Jason Lidyard of withholding key documents in a fatal shooting case he was prosecuting before joining the bench.
The complaint, filed with the New Mexico Disciplinary Board hours after the District Attorney’s Office finalized a plea deal that called for defendant Caleb Calandro to receive a four-year prison sentence in a 2016 shooting that left one man dead, was obtained Thursday by The New Mexican through a public records request.
Hours after Calandro’s sentence was imposed Monday by District Judge T. Glenn Ellington, the District Attorney’s Office issued a news release that seemed to pin blame for the outcome of the case on Lidyard, a former prosecutor.
“… the District Attorney’s Office agreed to this plea due to the behavior of the former prosecutor on the case,” spokesman James Hallinan said in a statement emailed to the media Monday.
Hallinan declined Monday to elaborate on the nature of the office’s complaint against Lidyard, saying in an email: “State Bar complaints are confidential and we are not allowed to discuss the reason for the complaint.”
But according to a letter to the disciplinary board, District Attorney Marco Serna’s office reported Lidyard for allegedly violating a judicial rule requiring timely disclosure of evidence. It accused Lidyard of failing to share important information about the criminal history of shooting victim Rustin Radcliffe with Calandro’s lawyer.
Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias wrote in the letter dated Monday that Lidyard worked on the case from Feb. 6, 2017, until March 30, 2018, when then-Gov. Susana Martinez appointed him to the bench.
The case changed hands one more time before Assistant District Attorney Blake Nichols took over in August, according to the letter.
In October, “Nichols received a banker’s box of paper material associated with State V. Calandro,” according to the letter. Inside the box, the letter added, Nichols found a “loose packet of documents” with a Post-it note on it that read: “Do Not Disclose — Check with Dorinda.”
According to Macias’ letter, the handwriting on the note appeared to be Lidyard’s, and Dorinda was his assistant.
The letter says the packet of documents contained an audio disc, a photo disc and a police report that implicated Radcliffe in a man’s beating.
Padgett described the documents as “clearly exculpatory in nature,” meaning Calandro — who claimed self-defense in the case — could have used them in his defense.
According to the letter, Nichols found “additional information” in the box in May, including a spreadsheet documenting “robberies in the downtown Santa Fe area during the relevant time period,” and notes that appeared to be in Lidyard’s writing about other violent crimes Radcliffe was alleged to have committed.
“All of the non-disclosed information was completely separated in the file from other materials … it does appear that most of the information contained in these packets is exculpatory and should have been disclosed,” the letter says.
Lidyard on Monday said he worked hard on the case and had no idea what Serna’s office was accusing him of having done.
He did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Though Hallinan on Monday said the complaint would be filed with the State Bar of New Mexico, allegations of infractions are handled by the New Mexico Disciplinary Board.
The board’s chief disciplinary counsel, William Slease, said Thursday the board’s rules regarding the confidentiality of complaints govern only the board’s own staff.
Calandro, 36, shot and killed Radcliffe, 37, in a downtown city parking lot in the early morning hours of Dec. 17, 2016. Later that day, Calandro shot and wounded an acquaintance, Samuel Dillon, while they were riding in a van with several other men. Dillon survived.
The two shootings were prosecuted separately.
The Dillon case went to trial in 2018, and jurors convicted Calandro of pistol-whipping Dillon but deadlocked 10-2 in favor of conviction on the other charges in the case, including the shooting.
The Radcliffe shooting was scheduled to go to trial this month but was resolved by the plea.
Under the terms of his agreement with prosecutors, Calandro pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter in the killing of Radcliffe and to a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in the shooting of Dillon — a charge state prosecutors had said they planned to retry following the split jury decision in the 2018 trial. The plea settled sentencing in both cases.
Nichols called the plea deal the “least worst” outcome and cited issues with the evidence that would have made the case difficult to win at trial.
Serna, who is running for Congress, said at a campaign news conference Thursday morning that if he could confirm the board had no rule preventing his office from discussing the complaint against Lidyard, he would do so.
Hallinan, however, declined to answer questions on Serna’s behalf later in the day.