Albert “Pat” Murdoch, a former New Mexico judge known for his fairness on the bench but who was forced to retire early in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations that rocked the state’s judiciary, has died. He was 67.
Officials with New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court said Murdoch died Monday. They did not provide any details about the cause of death and it was unclear when services would be scheduled.
A 1978 graduate of the University of New Mexico law school, Murdoch started his legal career as a public defender. In less than a decade, he went on to become the youngest person ever appointed as a state district judge in New Mexico. He was 33 at the time.
As the judicial district’s chief criminal judge, he was respected by both prosecutors and defense attorneys.
Chief Judge Stan Whitaker said Murdoch leaves a legacy of fairness and compassionate insight.
“His strength throughout his life are equally admirable and remarkable,” Whitaker said in a statement Tuesday. “The court extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to Judge Murdoch’s family.”
Murdoch served on the court for nearly three decades until his career was derailed in 2011 when a prostitute accused him of rape. He also was accused of intimidating a witness.
The accusations came at time when New Mexico’s judiciary was under increased public scrutiny due to a series of cases of alleged misconduct.
Murdoch maintained his innocence and his attorneys argued that the allegations were groundless. They sought dismissal of the case, arguing that police were investigating whether the woman may have tried to extort the judge with a video of a sexual encounter.
Murdoch ended up stepping down as part of an agreement with the state Judicial Standards Commission, which had started a disciplinary investigation. Prosecutors three years later decided not to press charges.
During his tenure, Murdoch presided over numerous high-profile cases, including fraud allegations involving former Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron and other defendants. He also issued rulings in the case of John Hyde, an Albuquerque man accused of killing two police officers and three others during a single day in 2005.
Murdoch once recounted one of his toughest cases, that of a decorated Marine whom he sentenced to two years in prison for chasing and killing a suspected thief. The ruling spurred letters to the editor and he was denounced by then-Gov. Bill Richardson for being too harsh.
The judge reconsidered the sentence months later, exchanging prison time with probation after he said the defendant had shown remorse.
Murdoch also was known for his work with a wheelchair basketball team for youths. He contracted polio as a child and spent his life using crutches to get around.
Court officials said he always was patient and fair with those who landed in his courtroom.
“He was courageous in his legal rulings,” said Judge Charles Brown. “His passing is a tremendous loss.”