In a recent development, a Democrat New Mexico judge from Las Cruces, The “honorable” James Martin of the 3rd Judicial District Court, faced public censure from the New Mexico Supreme Court for breaching six rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The censure, issued on Nov. 13, followed an acknowledgment of allegations by Judge Martin, who admitted to influencing prosecutors to pursue more severe charges against Robert “Berto” Burnham in a 2018 case.
The case involved Burnham, the former owner of Boots And Bourbon, who was charged with aggravated assault for allegedly pointing a semi-automatic rifle at a woman at the Las Cruces bar, identified as Martin’s daughter. The bar subsequently closed in 2018, and Burnham was convicted in 2021, with an ongoing appeal.
During Burnham’s trial, Judge Martin reportedly leveraged his authority to coerce prosecutors Samuel Rosten and Spencer Wilson into modifying the charges against Burnham. In a phone call, Martin directed the prosecutors to use language such as “brandish a firearm” in jury instructions instead of stating that Burnham “pointed a firearm” at Martin’s daughter. Following this, an amended jury instruction was submitted, alleging that Burnham “brandished and/or pointed a deadly weapon.”
After Burnham’s conviction, Martin inquired about his detention, expressing satisfaction that he was taken into custody. The court’s opinion highlighted Martin’s allowance of his daughter in his chambers during the trial, acknowledging the potential appearance of impropriety.
The Supreme Court’s censure aimed to emphasize the importance of judges avoiding any appearance of impropriety and to reassure the public of the legal system’s commitment to maintaining an independent, fair, and impartial judiciary.