Santa Fe Municipal Judge Virginia Vigil, who is running unopposed for a second four-year term, declined Monday to comment on a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former employee who alleges Vigil fired her after learning she had filed a Judicial Standard’s Commission complaint against the judge.
“According to Judge Vigil, Defendant fired her for lack of professionalism, work ethic and inability to work with coworkers,” the complaint says. “But the real reason was that Judge Vigil knew or suspected Ms. Salazar had complained to the Judicial Standards Commission.”
Mary Salazar’s complaint says she worked at the Santa Fe Municipal Court for more than 12 years — about 3 and a half of those as Vigil’s administrative assistant— before she was fired in June 2018 and never had her work criticized before Vigil invited her to resign or be fired.
Vigil terminated Salazar just five days after Judi Olean of Justice Education Systems spent a day observing the judge in court, according to the lawsuit.
“Judge Vigil became convinced that Ms. Olean’s visit was the result of a complaint filed by Ms. Salazar,” the lawsuit says.
Salazar’s lawsuit says she and two other employees filed a Judicial Standards Commission complaint against Vigil — a former Santa Fe County Commissioner — in September of 2017, which “outlined many instances of misconduct.”
Salazar’s attorney Daniel M. Faber said Monday the complaint included allegations that the judge, who presides over cases that range from shoplifting to traffic citations and DWIs, made a change to a plea agreement after the defendant had left the courtroom and asked in open court if anyone knew someone who a defendant could date.
Complaints to the commission are confidential unless and until the commission imposes sanctions on a judge.
Vigil, who is paid about $105,000 per year, said Monday the complaint to the commission had been resolved. The New Mexican could not find any published record of action in the case.
The whistleblower lawsuit, which was filed in October in the 13th Judicial District Court in Sandoval County, where Salazar lives, was first reported last week by the Santa Fe Reporter.
The Santa Fe Municipal Court did not file a response in the case until Sept. 19, which Farber said is because the court first argued, unsuccessfully, that the case should have been filed in Santa Fe County not Sandoval County.
In its response, the court denies the allegations in Salazar’s complaint and says Vigil was aware of and welcomed the presence of Olean in her courtroom, having noted in an email to staff that Olean was her mentor from Justice Education Systems.
Salazar seeks an unspecified amount of damages including double back pay with interest, legal costs and reinstatement.