State District Judge Jason Lidyardhas denied a motion by the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office asking him to recuse himself from an embezzlement case and accused prosecutors of “judge shopping.”
Lidyard had turned down a plea deal that called for Henrietta Trujillo, a former financial director at Northern New Mexico College, to pay back nearly $82,000 she admitted stealing from the school, plus more than $4,000 in taxes on the money, over the next five years in exchange for no jail time — unless she violated the terms of her probation.
Trujillo, 63, faces a felony count of embezzlement and is accused of stealing cash and checks between August 2012 and December 2017. A New Mexico State Police report on the case said college officials initially reported they couldn’t account for about $200,000 in Trujillo’s office.
Following a Sept. 16 hearing on the plea deal in his courtroom in Tierra Amarilla, Lidyard told The New Mexican the deal didn’t seem fair, considering defendants convicted of shoplifting items of far less value sometimes end up behind bars.
Lidyard said he “saw an inequity in the type of resolution that was being requested,” which echoed comments he’d made in open court that day.
On Sept. 20, Assistant District Attorney Ihsan Ahmed filed a motion asking Lidyard to recuse himself based on remarks the judge had made in the phone interview with the newspaper. The motion cited a rule requiring judges not to make public or private statements that would jeopardize a fair trial. Ahmed wrote that Lidyard’s statement to The New Mexican “may reasonably affect the outcome or impair the fairness” of Trujillo’s case, but he didn’t specify how.
Ahmed had filed a motion Sept. 16 seeking to exercise his right to excuse Lidyard from the case but withdrew it the same day.
Lidyard wrote in his decision on the Sept. 20 motion that it was “conclusive evidence that the State wanted to remove this Judge regardless of the statements contained in the newspaper article.” He went on to say the true motivation for the motion was the “desire to obtain another judge” willing to accept the plea deal.
Henry Varela, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, said the office had no comment on Lidyard’s decision.
“But we will be exploring our options,” Varela wrote in an email.