Taos Judge Andria Cooper joins the Judicial System
“She swore, in faith ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange; ’Twas pitiful. ’twas wondrous pitiful…” –Shakespeare (Othello)
Introduction to the Case
For more than six years the District Attorney’s office has targeted a local woman in a simple DUI-Child Abuse case (no bodily or property damage). The case has been dismissed three times by District Court Judge Sam Sanchez because of “Speedy Trial,” “Prosecutorial Misconduct,” and “Due Process,” issues. In the latest round of appeals by the local DA (the New Mexico Attorney General argues appeals for the DA), the Court of Appeals remanded the case to a newly appointed District Judge Andria Cooper for the “limited purpose of obtaining written findings and conclusions on the various speedy trial considerations and due process considerations” (Bold added).
In turn Judge Cooper acknowledged in her “findings” and “conclusions” that despite the fact that “the Court found misconduct by the state for improperly serving a subpoena and because the prosecutor admitted that contrary to it’s assertion during the first appeal [To Court of Appeals and Supreme Court], the State had the child’s age within days of the arrest; and despite Cooper’s conclusion that “the 9 month and nearly 6 month delay [was] past the presumptively prejudicial threshold,” the wise woman writes that “The defendant suffered prejudice but it was not undue…” (Bold added)
Then Judge Cooper reversed the previous judge’s district court decision and denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss. (Bold added) The defendant has never been called to appear in front of Judge Cooper though she appeared three times in front of Judge Sanchez.
Apparently Cooper subtracts the number of days when the defendant is subject to district and magistrate court from the time the case is on appeal–so four years disappear from the record. Judge Cooper does not explain what undue prejudice means. While the defendant wasn’t incarcerated, she was and is a target of the DA’s ire. A cloud of public ridicule and potential prison time hang over her as if a political prisoner.
The first appeal of Judge Sanchez’s decision to dismiss was upheld by the New Mexico Appeals Court. Then the DA, aided and abetted by the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office, appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court. As Judge Cooper mentioned above and Judge Sanchez found, the local DA’s office lied not only to the District Court but also to the Court of Appeals Court and the Supreme Court about when they discovered the age of the daughter in the car. Yet, the Supreme Court, partially due to a lie, reversed Judge Sanchez’s first decision.
Judge Sanchez dismissed the case a second time because of the DA’s lies and because they improperly served a Taos warrant on a Tennessee resident—even leaving threatening calls on the phone of the witness. Judge Cooper mentions the DA’s prevarications in her findings and conclusions.
Judge Sanchez dismissed the case a third time on various issues, including denial of due process. Subsequently, he left office before writing up his own findings and conclusions. Enter Judge Cooper, appointed to the bench. Cooper mentions the state’s violations of the speedy trial provisions, lies and misconduct of the DA’s office but she ignores the Court of Appeals’ limited order for findings and conclusions.
The DA Shops the Case
Long ago, the DA began the episodic search for a compliant judge—forum shopping–by abandoning magistrate court because the alleged perp wouldn’t accept a plea—two days in jail. The defendant dared mention that she would plead “not guilty” back in January of 2006. During arrest and incarceration, the defendant was strip-searched and abused in the county jail—neglected, ridiculed, and terrified. Indeed, she settled a civil rights claim on this very issue with Taos County after filing a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Despite the state police video tape of the arrest, at which time the daughter tells the arresting officer her age, 17, but the DA’s office claimed they did not know her age until several months later (by then she was 18). Regardless, they took the case to the grand jury and indictments ensued for child abuse. Nor did they dismiss the case in magistrate court, which only added months to the timeline. Just as the DA found a compliant grand jury, Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeals, now the DA, after six years, has found a compliant district court judge, who ignores speedy trial and due process issues as well as the Appeals Court itself.
Now, according to the Appeals Court’s latest response, the AG referred not to judge but to the “Court” in their argument, calling the DA’s appeal “moot” because the “Court” reversed the motion to dismiss. Surely names and judges go together; surely the “Court” is not a person. But who knows? The Court of Appeals agreed with the AG and will apparently remand the case back to Taos for trial.
Whether or not the Appeals Court reads findings and conclusions is uncertain since the judges apparently ignore their own orders to lower courts. During the third appeal, the State and District Court all missed Appeals Court deadlines—more than once–during this case about “speedy trial violations.”
The DA’s appellant attorney at the AG office never claimed the dog ate the homework. But she did plead for extensions due to “weather closures of her office and her boys’ schools” and “mix-up with the CD in district court.” Judge Cooper’s findings and conclusions arrived more than a year after the Appeals Court initial request. Fifteen days here, fifteen days there, and another year—it all adds up.
While the courts argue about the law with the likes of Wingo, Barker, Garza, and Savvedra, the lay person might ask why the Supreme Court allows prosecutors to lie and judges to ignore the rules or disobey court orders. A layman might ask why a case, fraught with speedy trial issues, drags on for six years. What is the motive for ignoring procedural safe guards?
The Art of Justice in El Norte
The DA, quite simply, had the motive (political retaliation), the opportunity (the defendant’s arrest) and the means available—state statutes, compliant judges, the byzantine and inhumane nature of the New Mexico Court system as a way to punish its enemies. And, sure, Taos is a small town. The DA’s staff attorneys, so-called party people, relish discussing the case over a beer with teammates at ball games or with bartenders at local joints between DWI prosecutions.
Though Taosenos know why the DA lost the last election in Taos County, Chief Justice Charles Daniels, Judge Roderick Kenndy of the Appeals Court, and District Court Judge Andria Cooper are understandably unfamiliar with the motives of local politicos or the character of prosecuting attorneys. Still the layman expects courts to follow and enforce the rules of procedure, the procedural safeguards, which have failed so spectacularly in this “speedy trial” case: Six years.
Six years, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Six years. Who said, “Justice delayed is justice denied?” Surely, Judge Cooper’s decision is passing strange.