The forced resignation of Eugenio S. Mathis as district judge was a sad but necessary ending to an otherwise impressive 20-year career on the bench. On Feb. 28, the New Mexico Supreme Court signed off on an agreement that required he step down from his 4th Judicial District position and never again hold a judicial office in the state.
The cause was an overwhelming amount of documentation that implicated his guilt in a long line of improper behaviors, some of which he has admitted to, others he denied. In all, Mathis admitted to eight of 28 allegations leveled against him — enough to justify an aggressive prosecution against him had the case not ended in a settlement.
Among the allegations he admitted were that he violated the judicial district’s computer and Internet policy; made rude and disparaging remarks about court employees and other judges with his wife on the court’s instant messaging system, even while he was hearing cases from the bench; failing to cooperate with other judges and court officials in the 4th District in various matters; and commenting inappropriately about pending cases over which he was presiding. Put them all together and you’ve got a conduct unbecoming anyone who wears the robes of a judge.
A few thoughts in the wake of this scandal:
• It’s a sad day for Las Vegas when one of its own, a real success story, ends a distinguished career in this way. Mathis, 58, grew up on the west side of town, then graduated from Standford University and the University of New Mexico School of Law before returning to his hometown and serving as a district judge for 20 years. He was a role model. Now, he’s a cautionary tale.
• No one should be above the standards of a workplace. Not even Mathis or his wife, Michelle Pino-Mathis, who also works at the courthouse and exchanged hundred of messages with her husband in an entirely inappropriate manner. In fact, their instant interactions highlight quite well one of the hazards to having married couples employed in the same environment. It’s not automatically inappropriate, but it can turn that way in a hurry if the spouses get careless.
• Electronic communications may seem personal and private, but generally they aren’t. In this case, the Mathises were messaging each other on the court’s IM system — a particularly reckless thing to do — but just about every kind of e-talk can be seen or sent to other unintended recipients. Don’t be fooled by the illusion of privacy.
All told, the state Judicial Standards Commissions was right to investigate this matter then target Judge Mathis for removal from the bench. What’s wrong is how Mathis sealed his own fate with a reckless disregard for the standards we expect a judge to live up to. Judges must be above reproach, and based on the documents compiled by Judicial Standards, Mathis had, either absentmindedly or defiantly, abandoned those standards. He may have thought he was doing so in the privacy of his own chats with his wife, but he should have known better. The result is an embarrassing ending to a storied career.