Stephen Fox appeared at his arraignment in state District Court without an attorney Tuesday and offered a payment of just over $1,000 to settle up the criminal charges he is facing for his alleged role in the destruction of the Plaza obelisk.
Paying a fee would be cheaper than hiring a lawyer, 73-year-old Fox, a Santa Fe gallery owner, told state District Judge Jason Lidyard.
But Fox faces up to three years in prison and fines of up to $10,000 if he is convicted of all the counts against him and receives the maximum sentence.
He was charged with felony counts of damaging property worth over $1,000 and conspiracy to commit damage, as well as a petty misdemeanor count of unlawful assembly, after being accused of helping other demonstrators pull on a rope that brought down the 152-year-old obelisk, known as the Soldiers’ Monument, during an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in October.
Previously, Fox was represented by an attorney.
He told Lidyard the defense attorney “withdrew because he didn’t want me to speak with the District Attorney’s Office at all. I felt that it was necessary to do so to clarify a number of things.”
Fox said he’d tried to find another lawyer, but he later decided it would be more cost-efficient to pay the $1,025 listed in charging documents as justification for his count of damaging property worth “over $1,000.”
“I thought I would answer the felonious charge by simply paying for it,” Fox said.
“I can understand your logic,” Lidyard replied. “Unfortunately, that type of logic doesn’t apply in the legal sense of what you are dealing with. With a criminal matter, it’s not necessarily just paying back what damage may have arisen from your conduct.”
Lidyard urged Fox to hire an attorney to help him navigate the legal system.
“There are many things you think may be to your advantage, but under the law they are not,” the judge said.
Fox asked the judge if he had received a letter Fox sent. Lidyard said he hadn’t and advised Fox not to contact any judges who might preside over his case.
Lidyard said the state had recused him from the case.
Court records show it will be heard by Judge Sylvia Lamar.
Two other judges in the First Judicial District, T. Glenn Ellington and Matthew Wilson, have recused themselves. Santa Fe County Magistrate David Segura also took himself off the case after Fox accused Segura of following him home years ago — an action the judge said he couldn’t recall.
Fox, a longtime fixture in downtown Santa Fe, is one of seven people charged in connection with the destruction of the obelisk.
He previously tried to resolve his case in an unorthodox way.
In November, he sent a letter to police, city and court officials requesting a “amicable solution” and admitting he had helped topple the controversial monument, which had been decried by many as a symbol of racism because of an inscription dedicating it to soldiers who died fighting “savage Indians.”
“When one of the 40 or so activists handed me the rope, I gladly accepted, having been a Native American art dealer for the past 40 years,” Fox wrote in the letter.
Fox has said he believes Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber wanted the obelisk torn down, based on statements the mayor made in June. He brought up the issue Tuesday, prompting Lidyard to caution him against incriminating himself.
“As I stated to you some time ago, anything you say may be used against you. Everything that is being said here today is being recorded. So, if you say something that could incriminate you, I wouldn’t be surprised if this recording were to be played at your trial to prove your guilt,” the judge said.
When asked if he understood the charges against him, Fox said he could “comprehend” them but didn’t understand how prosecutors had arrived at them.
“I cannot comprehend how that conspiracy charge could have accrued from what happened on the Plaza,” Fox said.
His comments drew another rebuke from the judge.
“Whatever explanations, justifications, excuses, or other things you need to say about the underlying events is, again, not what we’re here to discuss,” Lidyard said.
Fox again brought up the mayor.
Lidyard cut him off.
“You don’t want to hear this at all?” Fox asked. “You don’t want to hear this point of view?”
“No,” Lidyard said. “You’re absolutely correct. I do not.”