No Pay For Now

NM Supreme Court orders unpaid suspension of magistrate judge accused of drinking and driving

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Friday issued an order suspending Santa Fe Magistrate Judge Dev Atma Khalsa without pay. It’s the first time disciplinary action against the judge has been made public after his arrest on drunk driving charges in late February.

“Judge Khalsa is hereby suspended without pay, effective immediately, until further order of the Court,” the order declares.

Court officials had said Khalsa was removed from the bench and ordered not to appear at the courthouse on Feb. 27, a day after his arrest, but because Judicial Standards Commission proceedings are confidential pending Supreme Court action, confirmation of pending disciplinary action and details including his pay status were kept sealed. The court’s order of suspension also unsealed records related to Khalsa’s disciplinary records.

The Judicial Standards Commission filed a petition on March 1 asking for an unpaid suspension, reasoning in its petition that Khalsa’s suspension is “necessary” while his criminal case proceeds in order “to preserve the public’s confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

The records show the Supreme Court initially suspended Khalsa with pay the day after he was arrested for drinking and driving, which lawyers for Khalsa argued should have been enough of an immediate consequence pending the outcome of the criminal case.

While attorney Kitren Fischer is representing Khalsa in his criminal case, Briggs Cheney represented the magistrate judge in the Supreme Court proceedings. Cheney argued in a response that the Judicial Standards Commission moved too quickly to ask for suspension without pay because the criminal case is still playing out and that the commission “has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence the charges which are the basis for the Commission’s Petition herein.”

“The Commission should not be excused from that burden of proof at this stage by punishing/disciplining [Khalsa] by denying him pay.” Cheney wrote.

Supreme Court justices did not explain their decision to stop paying Khalsa in the April 7 order, but did note Cheney’s response was taken into consideration.

Khalsa pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of drinking while intoxicated and driving without a valid license. Police originally sought to charge Khalsa with aggravated drinking and driving after the judge refused to submit a blood test. The charge was lowered after police acknowledged Khalsa was never offered a breath test. The next court date in his criminal case is set for April 26 at the Santa Fe Municipal Court.

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