Supreme Court: Former Torrance County sheriff can resume work as judge

·2 min read

Jan. 26—Former Torrance County sheriff Heath White can again wear a judge's robe, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The state's highest court lifted its 2019 suspension of White as a magistrate judge and ordered the Torrance County Magistrate Court to pay him more than two years of back pay.

The ruling marks a turn of fortunes for White, 43, who was accused in 2019 by the New Mexico Attorney General's Office of using thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to buy personal items.

White's attorney, Sam Bregman, said White is eager to resume work as a magistrate judge in Moriarty.

"He plans on showing up for work first thing tomorrow morning," Bregman said Wednesday. "He's obviously very happy to be able to get back to work in the office that he was elected to and do the people's business."

White ended two terms as sheriff in December 2018 and later won election as a Torrance County magistrate judge.

The AG's office charged White in June 2019 with 11 felony crimes, including fraud and embezzlement, after New Mexico State Police investigators served a search warrant at White's home and found guns and other items prosecutors said were county property.

The criminal charges prompted the New Mexico Judicial Standards Commission to ask the state Supreme Court to suspend White without pay as a magistrate judge. The high court approved the request in May 2019.

White won a major victory in October 2019 when a district court judge tossed the criminal charges, finding no probable cause to charge the former sheriff.

Former 2nd Judicial District Judge Charles Brown called the case a "rush to judgment" and criticized State Police for using misrepresentations to obtain a search warrant of White's home.

In his written order, Brown said that "vital facts" were omitted "creating a misleading impression of criminal activity."

White argued that he stored items on his property while sheriff because the county lacked storage space. Witnesses testified that other employees stored county property for the same reason.

Jerri Mares, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, issued a brief written response Wednesday.

"We remain very concerned that taxpayer funds were used to purchase auto parts that were located on Heath White's personal vehicle, and judges should apply the highest standards of accountability," Mares said.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals in July upheld Brown's decision to dismiss the charges.

Bregman said judges at all levels made sound decisions throughout the process.

"Judge White and his family have taken a lot of hits because of these charges — these false allegations that were made against him," Bregman said.

State Police took "premature" actions "and they didn't get the whole story," he said. "We were fortunate to be able to explain the whole story in front of the district court."