Bill Richardson on witness list in NM bribery case

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and more than a dozen current and former judges could be called to testify in the trial of a Las Cruces judge accused of bribery.

The officials are on a list of 28 potential witnesses for the trial of state District Judge Michael Murphy, who was indicted last month in the latest pay-to-scandal with alleged ties to Richardson.

Asked by the Albuquerque Journal if he would welcome a chance to take the stand, Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos emailed that "Governor Richardson doesn't comment on political witch hunts."

The witness list also includes 14 current and former state and federal judges and Melinda Whitley, former chairwoman of the Dona Ana County Democratic Party.

State District Judge Michael Murphy is accused of telling a potential judicial candidate that if she wanted a seat on the bench she needed to donate to the Democratic Party through a political activist linked to Richardson.

Allegations in a special prosecutor's report imply the practice was common in the district during Richardson's time in office and that Edgar Lopez of Las Cruces delivered the payments to the former governor. Special prosecutor Matt Chandler has said the investigation is ongoing.

Richardson called the accusations "outrageous and defamatory" and said the 113 judges selected while he was governor were chosen solely on merit.

In New Mexico, the governor appoints district judges from candidates recommended by a bipartisan judicial nominating commission, which is made up of judges, lawyers and members of the public who are not lawyers.

Richardson served as governor from 2003 to 2010. In the last few years, his administration was dogged by ethics investigations.

Two years ago he withdrew from consideration to be President Barack Obama's commerce secretary because of a federal investigation into state transportation financing. No one was indicted in that case.

In a separate case, federal officials are investigating pay-to-play allegations involving state investments.

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Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com