Bribery case linked to ex-New Mexico governor back in court

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The allegations against retired state New Mexico District Judge Michael Murphy were startling, even in a state known for its political scandals.

The judge told a potential judicial candidate she would need to make payments to a Democratic political activist if she wanted a seat on the bench, a report from prosecutors said. The money would then be funneled to former Gov. Bill Richardson, he said.

It was one of a string of investigations into alleged pay-to-play activities with ties to Richardson, whose 2008 nomination to a Cabinet post in President Barack Obama’s administration was scuttled by a federal probe of how a Richardson political donor landed lucrative work on state transportation bond deals.

It was the only case that resulted in criminal charges. And after two years, a plea agreement is expected today that will reduce four felony charges to a single misdemeanor count of conduct unbecoming a public official.

The agreement would end a high-profile case that shocked the judiciary two years ago when prosecutors implied the bribes were part of a long-running practice under which Murphy and other judges worked with southern New Mexico Democratic activist Edgar Lopez to choose new judges for the district.

Richardson has called the accusations “outrageous and defamatory.” Lopez called them “absurd.” Murphy was suspended from the bench, and then retired, but has always maintained his innocence.

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