N.M. federal magistrate judge subjected employees to abuse, probe finds

A view of the judge's chair in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court
  • Inquiry found U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza created abusive work environment
  • 10th Circuit Judicial Council says matter raises institutional concerns

(Reuters) - Federal judges in New Mexico voted not to reappoint a magistrate judge after an internal probe found she created an abusive and hostile work environment by subjecting employees to outbursts, "derogatory" statements and frequent threats of being fired.

The inquiry into former U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza was detailed in a rare public order on Wednesday by the 10th Circuit Judicial Council, which had received a misconduct complaint about the judge.The order also said the matter raised broader concerns about court employees' comfort reporting misconduct.

Garza denied the allegations, the order said. She could not be reached for comment.

"The Judiciary, including this Circuit, has made progress in the area of workplace conduct, but it is clear that there is more work to do," Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote for the council of judges, which oversees the circuit's administrative and disciplinary issues.

The public order appeared to mark the first known instance of the federal judiciary addressing misconduct under policies adopted in 2019 in the wake of the #MeToo movement to explicitly prohibit abusive conduct in the workplace.The order came amid continued calls by Democratic lawmakers and court reform advocates to extend statutory protections against harassment and discrimination to the judiciary's 30,000 employees, a proposal opposed by the Judicial Conference of the United States.

A committee was appointed to investigate Garza, who had served as a magistrate judge since 2006, following a complaint by two former clerks and two current employees alleging her behavior created an abusive and hostile work environment.

An investigation that included interviewing every full-time employee that had ever worked for her gave the committee "reason to believe that she had engaged in sanctionable misconduct," Tymkovich wrote.

Tymkovich said her conduct included "unpredictable and hypercritical outbursts" and "derogatory and egregious statements about her own staff, other court employees, and judges."

After the investigation was largely complete, the district court judges in New Mexico voted against re-appointing Garza to another eight-year term, the order said.

Tymkovich said the matter raised serious institutional issues given the conditions that allowed Garza's apparent misconduct to continue for years and that several employees' concerns over retaliation for reporting her "may not have been unfounded."

The council said that the 10th Circuit would conduct additional training for employees and judges on workplace conduct rules and reporting options.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.