By Darrell Todd Maurina
Curry County Magistrate Judge Richard Hollis said Thursday he is satisfied with reasons District Attorney Brett Carter provided for prosecutors missing recent court appearances.
But Carter said he’s unhappy that news he was summoned to the bench to show cause for the absences was leaked to the media.
Carter said he believes those leaks were politically motivated.
On Monday, Hollis gave Carter until March 12 to show cause why neither he nor his deputy district attorneys were in court for two February cases in which defendants were ordered released on their own recognizance without posting bond.
Failure to show cause could have resulted in the district attorney being held in contempt of court and arrested, according to court documents.
Carter met with Hollis privately Thursday morning and both said later in the day that the show-cause order had been satisfied.
Carter said he told Hollis that two different deputy district attorneys assigned to the cases did arrive in court but arrived too late for the hearing.
“We’ve agreed to look at the paperwork process to see what the different offices can do to make us more efficient,” Carter said. “We were operating at 99 percent efficiency, but with thousands of files going through the system we will occasionally have situations where we miss something.”
Carter faces a contested Republican primary election on June 1 against former assistant prosecutor Matt Chandler. Carter said he believes those who called the media about the show-cause order were politically motivated.
“I don’t have any evidence to believe it was politically motivated on the judge’s part,” Carter said. “It could be court staffs; it could be someone in the courthouse as a spectator.”
Reporters at the Clovis News Journal and Portales News-Tribune learned about the show-cause hearing through anonymous tips on Wednesday.
“It goes to show there is some dirty politics going on,” Carter said. “I think it’s obvious that if something like this showed up at two newsrooms something is up.”
Carter said while it’s not unheard of for a busy district attorney’s office to miss court hearings, it is unusual for a judge to threaten a district attorney with contempt of court for missing a hearing.
“I’ve been in the office 17 years and this has never happened to me before,” Carter said. “This is an election year and I suppose politics might be a factor.”
Hollis was adamant Wednesday night that his action against Carter was not politically motivated.
“I am absolutely not affiliated with the Chandler campaign; as a judge I am not at liberty to be involved publicly in anybody’s campaign, whether it is the recent city commissioners’ races or the DA race,” Hollis said. “I’m not trying to send a message, I’m just trying to get some answers.”
Chandler said he learned about the show-cause order late Wednesday night after a reporter left messages seeking comment.
“I have no knowledge of what is being handled between the magistrate court and the district attorney’s office, but I can assure you that my campaign for the district attorney’s office will be based on my qualifications and positive information, period,” Chandler said.
Hollis said the show-cause order went to Carter solely because he heads the district attorney’s office. “For us to assume that Mr. Carter is deep in trouble is an unfair assumption,” Hollis said on Wednesday. “It’s simply because he is the head of the office though he may not be directly at fault.”
Hollis said show-cause orders are common in his court and are simply an attempt to get a problem fixed.
“Orders to show cause go out to hundreds of Curry County citizens to simply explain an action or a non-action,” Hollis said. “Mr. Carter has been extraordinarily compliant and has been an exemplary steward of the court. He is always well prepared and … knows his cases and is prepared to present himself.”
The hearings which Carter was required to show cause for missing occurred last month.
Court records show that on Feb. 18, a man accused of battery on a household member was released by Hollis because no one from the district attorney’s office appeared in court.
Court records show the man was subsequently picked up Feb. 25 on a bench warrant for failure to appear for a subsequent hearing after his release and jail officials said he was still in jail Thursday night.
“I think the public needs to know that some defendants, when they catch a fair break under the law, are less than compliant,” Hollis said.
According to court records, a second man accused of evading or eluding a police officer was ordered released by Hollis on Feb. 20 after no one from the district attorney’s office appeared in court.
However, jail officials said their records don’t show they ever received an order to release him, and he was still in jail.
Hollis said Thursday night he could not speak accurately to the case without having it available for review.