Courthouse dustup between defense attorney and prosecutor sparks assault claims

Mar. 3—A prosecutor and defense attorney had a heated exchange in the hallway at the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe on Friday, prompting one of them to call for help and the other to say he was being falsely accused for being a strong advocate for his client.

Assistant District Attorney Alain Clarke and defense attorney William Snowden were among a group of people waiting in the hallway outside state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington’s courtroom just before noon when the encounter occurred.

The two were waiting to enter the courtroom for a hearing in a case in which they are adversaries.

In an interview immediately following the incident, Snowden said he approached Clarke in the hallway before the hearing to talk about the case. He said the two exchanged words, but did not have a confrontation.

“Mr. Clarke never said, ‘You’re in my space,’ ” Snowden said. “He never indicated ‘you’re threatening me’ … I even think my hands were in my pockets the entire time.”

Nevertheless, Snowden said about 10 minutes after the engagement, Gaspar Garcia an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office, showed up in the hallway with a sheriff’s deputy.

“He says, ‘I understand you threatened Alain Clarke,’ Snowden recounted. “I indicated that I did not.”

Snowden said Garcia told him that while Clarke would not press charges, he indicated the prosecutor felt he was “in danger of an immediate battery” by Snowden.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias gave a different account in an email.

She wrote “Snowden confronted [Assistant District Attorney] Clarke in the hallway, backing him into a corner, and posturing aggressively towards him.

“When called for help, [Gaspar] responded along with a deputy in the courthouse to ensure that [Assistant District Attorney] Clarke was safe. Mr. Snowden’s behavior is inexcusable, and from what I can tell Mr. Clarke has done nothing wrong to warrant such hostility. If deemed appropriate, we will refer the incident to the State disciplinary board and defer to their independent investigation on the propriety of Mr. Snowden’s conduct.”

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Ríos said Friday no charges will be filed “because there was no aggravated battery or battery involved,” and Clarke indicated he did not wish to press charges.

After hearing about the encounter, Ellington rescheduled the hearing for Monday.

The case at issue involves defendant Seth Temple, 22, who faces a variety of charges, including battery of a household member and four counts of assault on a peace officer. The charges were filed in connection with a September incident in which a 20-year-old woman told police she drank with Temple before he turned on her, ripped off her pajama pants and pushed her out of his house and down on the ground.

Temple was released pending trial but violated the conditions of his release by leaving the state without permission from the judge to undergo substance abuse treatment in Arizona.

Snowden said he inadvertently failed to clear the trip with Ellington. The judge ordered Temple to return to New Mexico for a hearing on the matter.

Snowden said he felt it was counterproductive to have Temple leave treatment to appear at court and attempted to convince the District Attorney’s Office to agree to modify the defendant’s conditions of release so he could avoid removing his client from the treatment facility.

The defense attorney said Clarke and District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies had been unwilling to take a position on the issue, which angered him in light of the DA’s previously stated support of “treatment forward” prosecution of cases involving substance abuse.

“I was hoping to gain insight as to why there was such obstinance in this matter. My relationship with this DA’s Office is long, and it’s difficult, and I’m a person who they know will go to the mat for their clients,” Snowden said. “And I started to believe this was a position they were taking to attack me through my client.”

“The bottom line is that the defendant left New Mexico contrary to conditions of release, without the permission of the court, and without input from the State,” Padgett Macias wrote in an email. “As an office, we are reasonable, encourage rehabilitation, and recognize the treatment needs of defendants, but there is a process that requires the Court’s approval. Mr. Snowden did not follow that process and circumvented both the Court and the State. As we explained to Snowden, we will defer to the court on the issue of conditions of release.”

Attorney Damian Horne, Snowden’s law partner, and Sydney West — Horne’s wife and a public defender — were among the people who witnessed the incident. Both said they did not observe Snowden do anything threatening.

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