On June 6, Heath White and his attorney Sam Bregman appeared before Torrance County Magistrate Judge Duane Castleberry for a preliminary examination. Bregman asked to move the hearing to Torrance County District Court in Estancia, which was granted by the judge.
Assistant Attorneys General Collin Brennan and Jonathan Gardner represented the State of New Mexico in prosecuting White, formerly a 2-term Torrance County Sheriff. He was elected Magistrate Judge in 2018, and sat on the same bench he appeared before June 6 until stepping down after being charged with the crimes now pending.
Bregman said because the exam was being heard in White’s courtroom there was an appearance of impropriety.
“This is a motion to have this court disqualify itself. One of the most compelling reasons why [is], the appearance of impropriety can never be withstood in our judicial system,” Bregman said. “Just now my client’s employee sitting next to you, Sherry Weingarten, pointed out that she had told the prosecution they don’t know how to file pleadings in magistrate court,” Bregman said.
Gardner said, “Some of the statements that Mr. Bregman said I believe should not have been [told] to the public. I believe that there were statements made that were highly inappropriate. We will proceed as soon as possible … moving to another venue for jurisdiction.”
Castleberry said, “The parties stipulate to a continuance,” and the case will be, “refiled in district court where it will resume.”
Outside the courthouse, Bregman said in response to allegations of possession of stolen property that White had been storing a generator and tried to return it to the Torrance County Sheriff’s office. Bregman provided email transcripts showing White’s intention to do that.
Bregman said, “This county is a small little county. They don’t have any place to store all this stuff.”
The Independent asked Bregman about the state’s allegations that parts paid for by the Sheriff’s department were found on White’s vehicle. Bregman responded that there were two vehicles, adding, “One was the county’s and one was his personal vehicle. How did parts end up on a county vehicle paid for with his private money? There was a mix-up but there was no crime. Making a mistake doesn’t make you a criminal.”
When asked by The Independent about firearms alleged missing by the state, Bregman said, “There’s county property on every single deputy’s property right now because there’s no place to store property. What sheriff knows where every firearm is in the county? He doesn’t.”
“In the end, he is going to be found not guilty of all of this, “ Bregman said.
The Independent asked Bregman if he would be happy to have the trial venue in Torrance County, he said, “Absolutely. I think the people of Torrance County should be able to judge this case.”
Brennan was asked the same question said he was happy to proceed in Torrance County District Court. When asked why Moriarty Magistrate Court was chosen rather than the Magistrate Court in Estancia, Brennan said he didn’t know and to ask the Attorney General’s Office.
hCastleberry read the charges against White, which include embezzlement over $20,000, making or permitting false public voucher, soliciting the making of false public voucher, official acts for personal financial interest, misuse of public money and receiving stolen property.