State argues judge acted improperly

When Judge Charles Brown disallowed evidence collected under search warrants in Heath White’s case, he gave an Aug. 6 deadline for the state to file a brief as to why that evidence should be allowed; Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Gardner filed a brief and response Aug. 2.

In it, the state protests Brown’s July 26 ruling to suppress evidence gathered with search warrants obtained by State Police in the felony case against Torrance County magistrate judge, and former sheriff, Heath White.

The AG’s office argued that it is “improper for the court to decide a suppression issue at a preliminary hearing. … The court would be acting outside the Rules of Criminal Procedure and that the Court’s ruling would be incorrect.”

The purpose of a preliminary hearing is to show that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it.

Heath White and his attorney Sam Bregman at Moriarty Magistrate Court June 6. Photo by Thomas Campbell.

White is charged with felony embezzlement, fraud, possession of stolen property, misuse of public funds, falsifying public vouchers, solicitation to falsify public vouchers and an official act to directly enhance his position.

Photographs of material evidence gathered at White’s home, using one of those search warrants, include firearms, firearm parts, rifle scopes, a welder, a grinder, a drone, and more, was entered into evidence during White’s preliminary hearing.

Another search warrant obtained by State Police for White’s vehicle discovered auto parts, photographed and entered into evidence at the hearing, and claimed by the state to have been obtained illegally with county funds.

White’s attorney Sam Bregman said White had been trying unsuccessfully to return county property during his transition from sheriff to judge following the November 2018 election.

Judge Charles Brown in court July 26. Photo by Thomas Campbell

Brown said July 26 that if the judge who issued the warrants had known of White’s attempts to return the property, he would not have issued the warrants. He said there were, “material omissions and misstatements” in the application for the warrants by State Police investigators.

The response by Gardner denies such omissions and misstatements.

The response also says that Brown did not show “proper deference” to the judge who issued the warrants.

The state also referenced a prompt by Brown to Bregman, to enter an oral motion to suppress the evidence obtained under the search warrants. Brown’s prompting came after he had ruled to suppress the evidence and subsequently allowed the state time to file a brief on the issue.

Bregman was also given until Aug. 13 to reply to the state’s response. Brown will rule on the issue afterwards. Brown’s ruling on the admissibility of the evidence is held in abeyance until then.

Efforts by The Independent to contact Bregman and the AG’s office for comment have not been successful.