(Editor’s Note: We faxed and mailed this letter to Onuska
9/5/02. So far we’ve received no answer.)
The Committee For Judicial Integrity
“The only thing necessary for the triumph
of evil is for good men to do nothing.”Burke
P.O. Box 952, Goliad, Texas 77963
5 Sept. 2002
Judge Paul Onuska
920 Municipal Dr., Suite #2
Farmington, N. Mex. 87401
FAX: (505) 326-0224.
Dear Judge Onuska:
As I informed you in a
previous letter, as a public service for those voters who wish to
make an informed vote on your retention this November 5, my committee
is preparing a website detailing some of your misbehavior as district
In the interest of fairness,
I am giving you a chance to explain your decisions in those cases.
Additionally, once my web page is up, I am extending to you a standing
invitation to respond to my allegations. Naturally, you are not
obliged to answer my questions, but unlike criminal law, your silence
will be held against you!
Concerning Stat e
v. Anthony Peters, Cause No. CR-418
In the Peters suppression
hearing you several times made clear that you believed the State’s
sole witness, Ofc. Shawn Scott, then of the Aztec P.D., was honest
and truthful. You also made very clear your scepticism of the defendant,
Anthony Peters, who was a three-time felony loser. At the end of
the hearing, as the parties were getting up to leave the courtroom,
you gave encouragement to Ofc. Scott, telling him twice to “keep
Two critical things Ofc.
Scott testified toand he was adamant about thiswas 1)
that while he was standing outside Peters’ Blazer, waiting
for Peters to get his papers for the traffic stop, he clearly saw
through the back window of the Blazer a half-consumed bottle of
schnapps lying on the back floorboards; and 2) that he found the
bindle of meth that was the subject of the suppression hearing,
in Peters’ wallet, which he got from Peters’s pocket,
while booking Peters into jail.
Peters’ and his
witnesses testified that the window to his Blazer was caked with
mud, and Ofc. Scott could not have seen through the window. Moreover,
they claimed, there was camping gear that covered up the bottle.
Peters also testified
that Ofc. Scott, while booking him into the San Juan County jail,
left the booking area, went out to the parked Blazer and searched
it once again, and then returned with a bindle of meth he had found
in a wallet that was in the Blazer. Peters claimed that he did not
own this wallet and didn’t know about the meth. Peters swore
that Ofc. Scott did not find the meth bindle in his wallet.
Question 1: Why
is it that during the hearing you made it clear you believed Officer
Scott, and did not believe Mr. Peters, but in your “Findings
of Fact,”the report the appellate courts would use
if the D.A.’s Office tried to appeal your decisionyou
found that Peters’ version was true, and thus Scott’s
testimony was false? Why did you think Ofc. Scott had lied to you
on the stand?
Question 2: I charge
that you knowingly signed a false Statement of Facts because you
knew it would kill any chance the D.A.’s Office had in appealing
your legal decisions in that case. What do you say about that?
Question 3: If
that is not true, if in fact you truly believed Ofc. Scott’s
testimony was perjurous, that he was a rogue cop out to falsely
charge an innocent man, why did you not report him to his boss,
Aztec P.D. Chief Clay Morris; to the D.A.; and to the F.B.I.? Indeed,
why did you praise Ofc. Scott’s honesty, and encourage him
to “keep at it,” at the end of the hearing, if you
believed he was a rogue cop who had just lied to you on the witness
Question 4: Why
were you so sarcastic to Mr. Peters during his testimony, sinceif
you Findings of Fact are to be believedyou concluded he was
an innocent man, truthfully telling you what happened, who was being
set up by a bad cop? Why didn’t you announce from the bench
at the conclusion of the suppression hearing, the finding that you
later made in the written Findings of Fact: that you believed Peters
and his witnesses and thus disbelieved Ofc. Scott?
Some days before the suppression
hearing, the D.A.’s Office and Peters’ attorney, Val
Jolley, agreed to let you read the transcript of the magistrate
court’s preliminary hearing, in order to cut down on the
need for further in-court testimony. The prosecutor was identified
on the front of the transcript, and a number of times in the pages
that followed, as “Suzanna Gee” or “Ms. Gee.”
And yet, during the suppression hearing, you asked Jolley and me
if Jolley and I had not attended the same preliminary hearing. If
you had read the transcript, you would have known, of course, that
I did not attend that hearing.
Question 5: Why
did you not bother to read the preliminary hearing transcript?
Question 6: At
the very beginning of the suppression hearing, before you had heard
a word of testimony, you made it clear that you considered the State’s
position untenable, and a waste of the court’s time. Since
you had not read the preliminary hearing transcript (which both
sides agreed you could read prior to the hearing), where did you
get your information about the facts of the case?
During questioning of Ofc. Scott in the suppression hearing, you
asked Scott about his discarding the liquor in the schnapps bottle
in question. (Scott testified he poured out the liquor after booking
Peters into jail.) After Ofc. Scott admitted his understanding of
Aztec P.D. policy on this point had been mistaken, you asked him
rhetorically, “And we had it sorted out as a result of your
chief having to give a statement about how you’re going to
handle evidence in the future?”
In fact, Scott’s
chief, Clay Morris, had given a sworn deposition concerning Aztec
P.D.’s policies involving the handling of evidence. Peters’
attorney, Val Jolley had taken the deposition, in the presence of
Assistant District Attorney Suzanna Gee and the attorney for the
City of Aztec’s insurance carrier. But this fact was not
generally known, and the D.A.’s Office had not agreed to
turn over that statement to you to read prior to the suppression
hearing. It is, of course, a violation of judicial ethics for a
judge to receive ex parte information from one party without the
other party’s consent.
Question 7: How
did you know about Clay Morris’ deposition, and that he had
testified about Aztec P.D.’s evidence destruction rules?
Who provided you with the information about Morris’s sworn
statement? What authority did you have to discuss this case, including
evidence, with others without the consent of all the parties?
Question 8: Did
you engage in ex parte communications without the consent of one
of the opposing parties, namely the D.A.’s Office?
During the Peters hearing,
I offered you a Xeroxed appellate case which would be helpful to
you in deciding a legal question that arose during the hearing.
You were very cross and chastised me for failing to follow one of
your rules: namely that attorneys must provide you with appellate
cases which “might be useful” before the hearing
startsnot during the hearing. You recognized that I was new
to your court, but you were extremely irritated that I didn’t
know about this rule. Later in the hearing, the defendant’s
attorney (and your old friend), Val Jolley, offered you a Xeroxed
appellate case. Instead of chastising him as you did me (after all,
he’s practiced in your court for many years, and should know
all your rules very well), you were overjoyed to get the case he
was handing you (your exact words were: “Oh I figured you
would have a case Mr. Jolley! I figured you would have a case!”)
Question 9: So,
does the rule that attorneys are to provide you with appellate cases
prior to a hearing only apply to prosecutors, or only to attorneys
who are not your friends, or what? Why the difference in how you
treated Jolley and me when we did precisely the same thing in court?
I charge that this is yet another example of your willingness to
use your court to help your friends at the expense of other parties
with litigation before you, that indeed, it is further evidence
of the kangaroo nature of the court you were running that day. What
say you to that?
Concerning the juvenile
docket call on 25 Sept. 1996.
You recall that your regular
juvenile prosecutor, Sandra Price, was suspended by the D.A., Alan
Whitehead, a couple of days before this docket call was set. Since
Mrs. Price was no longer available, the docket was left to Yvette
Sais, our youngest prosecutor, fresh out of law school, who had
just joined our office a few weeks before.
The day before the docket
call, Ray Archambeau visited you in your chambers and informed you
that he and Miss Sais had agreed to pass his client--Finch’s
case--to a later docket, so Miss Sais would have time to confer
with Mrs. Price about the plea offer. You had no objection to this
reset at that time. This was, after all, an extremely long docket,
which didn’t end until well after 5 p.m., so the passing
of a single case to another docket should not have been a problem.
The next day, with the
courtroom packed, you called the Finch case first (and out of order),
and then belittled Miss Sais for not having called Mrs. Price and
gotten ready for a plea that morning. Every time Mr. Archambeau
tried to explain, you cut him off. You then abruptly recessed court
so Miss Sais could phone Mrs. Price, and stormed off the benchleaving
most people in the courtroom to conclude that Miss Sais incompetent.
Question 1: Why
did you strongly object to resetting this case in court, when you
had no objections to the reset the day before? Since you so strongly
opposed resetting the case, why didn’t you say something
about resetting it when Archambeau told you that was his and Miss
Question 2: Why
did you call the Finch case first, out of order? Was it to insure
that there was as big a crowd present as possible, to better humiliate
Question 3: Why
did you create the impression with the people in that packed courtroom
that Miss Sais was derelict in her duties, when you knew full well
she had done nothing wrong?
Question 4: Why
did you keep interrupting Archambeau and Miss Sais whenever they
tried to explain that they had agreed to reset this case, that this
agreement had been run past you the day before, and you had voiced
Question 5: After
throwing your temper-tantrum, and storming off the bench and out
of the courtroom, upon your return, why didn’t you apologize
to the people in the courtroom for your boorish behavior, and for
wasting their time?
Question 6: Do
you believe your behavior in court that morning is acceptable? If
not, why have you not apologized to Miss Sais?
Concerning your reasoning
in the Kevin Ogden case.
You recall that Vicky
Chavez, a Farmington Police Community Service Officer, was murdered
by Kevin Ogden. Ofc. Chavez was in her Farmington Police uniform,
and was seated in her marked police car when Ogden walked up to
her and killed her with a shotgun blast. As a Community Service
Officer, she was not armed, but was under Farmington P.D. discipline
and orders, and had many of the same duties and responsibilities
as Farmington Police Officers.
It was apparent that Ogden
murdered Miss Chavez because he considered her to be a police officer
going about her duties.
The D.A.’s Office
charged Ogden with first degree (capital) murder, and alleged that
the aggravating factor that made it a capital crime was the fact
that he murdered Miss Chavez while she was a “peace officer”
going about her duties. You ruled that she was not a “peace
officer,” and therefore Ogden could not be charged with first
Question 1: Why
did you rule that the murder statute that makes it a capital offense
to murder a peace officer going about his duties did not apply to
Miss Chavez? If a Police Community Service Officer wears a police
uniform, drives a marked police car, and has the same responsibilities
as the rest of the police, why aren’t they entitled to the
same protection under the law as the rest of the police?
Question 2: The
N.M. Supreme Court, of course, unanimously reversed you on that
question in State v. Ogden, 118 N.M. 234. Do you now think
the Supreme Court got it right, or do you still think you were correct?
Why do attorneys
chose to excuse you from their cases at a far higher rate than
any other judge in your district?
In the two and one-half
years running from 1999 to the end of June 2002, you were excused
by attorneys whose cases were assigned to your court 266 times.
Judge Caton, in contrast, was excused only 96 times, Judge Birdsall
had 93 excusals, Judge Rich 83, and Judge Foutz only 38. Your closest
competitor for excusals, Judge Harrison (who is retiring) had 199
excusals, or 67 fewer excusals than you.
Question: I asked
a San Juan County attorney why he thought you have such an extraordinary
number of excusals. His reply, “because Onuska’s a
jerk.” What is your explanation?
Why do you ‘recuse’ yourself far more than your
The district clerk’s
records also reveal that in all of 1999 through June 30, 2002, you
“recused” yourself from an astonishing 323 cases,
meaning you declined to hear those cases. The district clerk then
had to reassign the cases you refused to hear to other judges. Your
recusal rate is far higher than your colleagues. For example Judge
Harrison, who came in with the second highest number of recusals
(and is not standing for retention), had 246 recusals, or 77 fewer
recusals than you. Judge Birdsall came in third with 203 recusals
(many, I’m told, were former clients of hisan excuse
you do not have), Judge Rich had 172 recusals, Judge Caton had 143
recusals, and Judge Foutz had the least at 114.
Question 1: Do
you agree with me that if you had not exercised your recusal option
so often, that you would have had even more excusals by attorneys?
Question 2: Is
it true you recuse yourself if you don’t like one of the
attorneys in a case?
Question 3: Is
it true that you recuse yourself in cases where opposing parties
are members of prominent families, or are important businesses in
the area, and you think deciding such cases will politically be
a lose-lose proposition for you?
Should the voters retain
on the bench a judge who uses his position to favor his friends
at the expense of other parties; treats attorneys who appear before
him with extraordinary rudeness; who showboats, throws staged temper
tantrums, and then leaves the courtroom, in order to humiliate an
attorney appearing before him, and at the expense of holding up
the business of the court; and who issues “findings of fact,”
i.e. reports to the appellate courts, which he knows are false?