The state Supreme Court has suspended former lawmaker Victor Marshall’s attorney’s license indefinitely after finding he violated the code of judicial conduct by filing a frivolous charge, defaming a judge and engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
“I’m sorry; I can’t speak to the press because of the court decision,” Marshall, who has practiced law for more than
45 years without prior sanction, said Thursday.
The Supreme Court‘s decision – announced by Chief Justice Michael Vigil after oral argument on Wednesday and formalized in writing on Thursday – is in response to a motion filed by counsel in a decades-long dispute over water in the Basin. San Juan River and a related press release he sent to media.
In the motion, Marshall said a settlement in the case — which awarded more than 600,000 acre-feet of water in the basin to the Navajo Nation — should be overturned because, he says, the retired judge James Wechsler did not reveal that he had previously worked for the Navajo Nation before endorsing the 2013 deal.
Wechsler had worked not for the Navajo Nation itself, but for an organization called DNA, a nonprofit legal aid organization, in the 1970s, according to information provided by the Courts Administration Office in 2018.
Much of the discussion during the disciplinary arguments centered on the language Marshall used in his closing argument.
“Our concern is not so much that he claimed Wechsler had a conflict,” Supreme Court Justice Julie Vargas said, “but how he did it.”
Vargas said Marshall implied that Wechsler intentionally hid his relationship with the Navajo Nation, ignored the law and “fixed” the case in favor of his former clients.
The Supreme Court’s disciplinary panel said in written findings, adopted by the court, that Marshall’s conduct “was intentional and threatened to seriously damage the integrity of the justice system,” while causing distraction and delay. in the case.
Marshall’s attorney Jeff Baker told the court his client’s choice of words may have been poor, but he was just a zealous advocate on behalf of his clients – a group of water districts from northern New Mexico — and shouldn’t be disciplined for asking the case. being suspended while he investigates “rumors” he heard in the Legislature about Wechsler’s previously undisclosed relationship with the Navajo Nation.
“It all goes back to Mr. Marshall’s unfortunate use of the word ‘fixed’,” Baker explained. “That was too harsh a word…but it’s not the kind of thing that should cause a lawyer to lose their indefinite license.”
“reasonably” be questioned.
“I know how to accuse a judge of settling a case if I wanted to,” Marshall told the court. “But I did not do it.”
The disciplinary committee disagreed, noting in written findings “an objectively reasonable person would not question whether ‘Judge Wechsler’ was “setting the case” in favor of the Navajo Nation based on his work as a as a staff lawyer in DNA Legal Services for approximately forty-five years. before.”
The panel originally considered disciplining Marshall via public censure, according to written findings, but decided his lack of contrition warranted a harsher sentence.
“The panel is very concerned [because (Marshall) continues to deny that he did anything improper and displays no remorse and] this [Marshall] may adopt similar conduct in the future unless [his] conduct has serious repercussions,” according to the panel.
Former Foundation for Open Government board member Susan Boe said Thursday the group disagreed with the Supreme Court‘s decision.
“We are disappointed both politically and certainly personally for Victor,” Boe said. “That’s a pretty severe punishment.”
Marshall — who represented The New Mexican — may apply for reinstatement of their license after one year, according to the Supreme Court order. But he must first complete four hours of continuing education credits and pass the multistate professional responsibility exam and pass with a score of at least 80 before doing so, according to the order.