Inside the Capitol

Thursday, August 28, 2008

9-1 Ex-Judge Brennan's Problems Renew Questions

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Former Judge John Brennan's new problems with the law remind us of an old and maybe even bigger problem.
Brennan was arrested on March 9 of this year and charged with first-degree felony kidnapping and aggravated battery after Albuquerque police were summoned to a house by neighbors who heard screaming.
When police arrived, the screaming continued. They kicked open a door to find Brennan with his hand over a woman's mouth and his other arm wrapped around her neck. Both appeared extremely intoxicated.
Brennan is scheduled for trial next month in Gallup. The charges since have been reduced to false imprisonment and misdemeanor battery on a household member. That reduces his possible prison term from some 20 years to less than 19 months if found guilty.
The trial was moved out of Albuquerque because all 24 district judges recused themselves. Brennan had been chief judge of the state's 2nd Judicial District for many years until his Memorial Day weekend arrest in 2004 for driving while intoxicated and cocaine possession.
Brennan bargained those charges down to a year of probation and two days of house arrest. He also resigned from the bench and surrendered his law license.
In the aftermath of the cocaine charge, many questions were raised and many charges leveled. Allegations were made that Brennan was a longtime coke user and so were some of his friends and colleagues.
Those not making allegations wondered how a 25-year district judge bought his cocaine. Did he actually go out on the street and buy it or did he obtain it through friends who also were users?
Other judges, defense attorneys and prominent business people were among those mentioned. And who knew about Brennan's use? Certainly colleagues and coworkers had to notice. And if Brennan was a user, did it affect his performance on the bench?
Much of this may have been wild speculation but there was enough concern for the state Supreme Court to remind judges, lawyers and court employees that they must report any known use of illegal drugs by a judge to the Judicial Standards Commission. No public action has ever been taken by the commission on Brennan's case or on any others.
Republican state Sen. Steve Komadina, a Corrales physician, introduced legislation the following year calling for drug testing of public officials. He received support form Gov. Bill Richardson and some Republican legislators but not enough to achieve passage.
Investigative television reporter Larry Barker received a leaked 1998 confidential report by a Department of Public Safety employee, who had been assigned to work with a federal drug task force. The employee interviewed people who claimed knowledge of four judges and several defense attorneys who did drugs.
The federal panel did not follow up on it and neither did state law enforcement authorities since it was prepared for a federal agency. But a copy of the report was filed away at the state Public Safety Department from whence Barker obtained it.
And sure enough, one of the names in the report was Brennan's, indicating there appeared to be knowledge of Brennan's problem six years earlier. No other names have been revealed. The 2nd Judicial District Court asked for an investigation, not of Brennan, but of how Barker obtained his information.
Since Brennan no longer is connected with the judiciary and no longer is an attorney, the pending case has no bearing on the judicial system.
But it resurfaces some of the old questions about how one of the best known and most respected members of the judiciary could have an apparent problem over a period of years without it ever being noticed.
And if it was noticed and not reported, maybe such activities are still continuing among the other people mentioned in the report that Barker is keeping under wraps. The rumors continue and it isn't healthy for public confidence in the judiciary.
MON, 9-01-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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