A panel of judges on Monday publicly reprimanded U.S. District Court of Kansas Judge Carlos Murguia for sexually harassing court employees, having an affair with a felon and being habitually late to court proceedings.
The Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit issued the rebuke of Murguia after receiving complaints and a subsequent investigation by a special committee.
The council found that Murguia harassed female employees with sexually suggestive comments, inappropriate text messages and non-work contact after hours and often late at night. The council’s order said employees were reluctant to tell Murguia to stop because of his power; in one instance, Murguia was told to stop his conduct but that he continued anyway.
Murguia, who works in the federal courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas, was also found to be in a “years-long extramarital sexual relationship with a drug-using individual” who was on probation at the time and is now back in prison on felony convictions.
The council’s order said that an affair by a judge doesn’t always rise to misconduct, but that in Murguia’s case, he placed himself in a position where he could be extorted.
Murguia was married to Unified Goverment of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kansas Commissioner Ann Brandau-Murguia, but the couple divorced in 2018, Johnson County court records show.
Lastly, the council found Murguia habitually showed up late to court proceedings, often because he was playing basketball during lunch and leaving lawyers and jurors waiting for his return.
“Judge Murguia was counseled about his tardiness fairly early in his federal judicial career, but his conduct persisted nonetheless,” the council’s order said.
In a statement to The Star, Murguia apologized to his victims and other members of his staff for his conduct.
“I also apologize to my colleagues on the Court, all of whom I very much respect, as well as my former wife, Ann, and our children, my family, my friends, and the public,” Murguia’s statement said. “I regret that I had an inappropriate relationship with an acquaintance who was on state court probation.”
Even so, the special committee investigating the claims said the judge was “less than candid” and did not fully disclose his conduct when initially confronted with it.
“His apologies appeared more tied to his regret that his actions were brought to light than an awareness of, and regret for, the harm he caused to individuals involved and to the integrity of his office,” the council’s order said. “Moreover, his misconduct is very serious and occurred over a lengthy period.”
The council could have issued a private reprimand, but said that Murguia’s conduct rose to the level that a public disclosure was necessary as a “powerful disincentive.”
Murguia, a University of Kansas graduate, was appointed to a federal judgeship in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. He grew up in the Argentine community of KCK and is the the first Hispanic named to the U.S. District Court of Kansas. Federal judges are lifetime appointments and cases of public reprimand are rare.
“Complaints are not uncommon, but sanction is,” said University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law dean Barbara Glesner Fines.
A reprimand goes on Murguia’s record but does not otherwise affect his appointment.