A Moriarty Magistrate Court judge’s embezzlement case will no longer be heard in his own courtroom.
Heath White is accused of stealing from taxpayers during his time as the Torrance County sheriff. On Thursday, White looked on in the courtroom as his attorney argued the case should never have been brought there in the first place, saying the state just wanted to embarrass him.
“This was just a matter of, ‘Let’s mess with him, let’s charge him, and guess what? You’re assigned, and then we get to remove you as the judge assigned to your own case. It’s ridiculous,” White’s attorney, Sam Bregman said.
The state was scheduled Thursday to file motions for the defense to disclose White’s internal affairs file from his time working with the Albuquerque Police Department and the Torrance County Sheriff’s Office.
However, the court never got to that point because Bregman requested the case be moved to district court, claiming White can’t focus on giving a proper defense when he’s used to being on the other side of the bench.
The state said it would file the paperwork to move the case to district court.
“I’m happy with any venue because we’re looking to seek justice, and we believe there is probable cause in this case at this point, and we will see it to trial because we believe there is something there,” Collin Brennan said.
White was hit with seven charges after allegedly embezzling more than $20,000 during his time as sheriff. A new criminal complaint filed Thursday showed four more charges tacked on for tax fraud.
Investigators also accuse him of keeping items like cameras and surveillance equipment.
State Police recovered many of those items when they searched White’s home, truck and a store in Edgewood where he operated a gun and ammo business.
Bregman on Thursday argued his client has tried all along to give the property back.
He gave KRQE News 13 emails in which White told the sheriff administrator in late March that he didn’t want sheriff’s department property stored at his house anymore and that someone needed to pick it up.
Those emails were sent a few weeks after the investigation started.
“Making a mistake doesn’t make you a criminal,” Bregman said. “What makes this really unfair is they knew he was trying all along to get all of this property—that he’s now charged with a second-degree felony over—back to the county, and they never did anything about it.”
Bregman said White stored the property at his house because the county has limited space.
“This county’s a small little county. They don’t have any place to store this stuff. There’s no place to store it,” Bregman said.
White has been temporarily suspended from the bench without pay.