Synopsis: Judicial Indiscretion. Michael Arkin. 103,800 words.
The Santa Fé Trail sets the scene for drug running, money laundering, treachery, murder, and challenges to character, as Judicial Indiscretion plays out in the cactus-studded New Mexican Rio Grande Valley landscape.
Following the ritualized murder of a respected judge in Mimbres County, New Mexico, a local attorney, David Madrid, is indicted and arrested for the crime. Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Linda Lawson of The San Diego Times, prevails upon her long time friend Matt Lucas to assist in the defense of David, her brother. Matt is an experienced attorney turned investigator recently relocated from Northern California (See, Out of Balance, PA, 2012, at Lucas collaborates with Public Defender Scott Sutherland until Scott is targeted and taken out by an apparent drug cartel vehicle and is consequently hospitalized, though he maintains consciousness and is available for mentoring, consulting and planning. The District Attorney impedes the defense investigation but Lucas identifies the judge’s contacts and other potential suspects. Grand Jury transcripts released under pressure reveal Madrid’s love affair with the judge. Consequences were catastrophic: the affair ended badly; the judge may have cost Madrid an appointment to a vacant judicial seat; Madrid was divorced by his wife; and, he lost his job with a prestigious law firm headed by the judge’s then husband. Madrid’s defense appeared sunk by ample proof of motivation and opportunity.

Largely undaunted, Lucas tries to develop possible witnesses, sources and other suspects. But he is hampered by Madrid’s alcoholism and lack of focus. Sutherland and Lucas stop the availability of alcohol to Madrid and thereby force David into recovery through A.A. which is offered within the jail so that he may regain focus and assist in his defense. Working with Madrid in recovery leads Lucas to see that David harbored no revengeful feelings toward the judge. As Madrid says, “If I were a killer, there are others I’d have far more reason to dispatch.” Lucas also discovers that The Matranga Cartel had close business and personal ties to the judge. Santa Fé Sheriff Fred Baca and Lucas are almost killed by a Cartel hit squad in Juarez, Mexico while investigating. Lucas is nearly killed in his home in Mimbres but for the intervention of Brian Nichols, an old adversary of Lucas who is surveilling him for his own purposes. Other suspects being evaluated by Lucas who can trace the money laundering operations are killed by the Cartel. The trail goes silent.

When the U.S. leader of the Cartel escapes through a tunnel into Mexico, Lucas and Baca are ready to throw in the towel. But David Madrid, who gained clarity of mind through his recovery process, now makes a discovery about the origin of the murder weapon. It is an ancient Native American knife from David’s collection. However, it is a documented piece that was awarded to his ex-wife in the divorce. Rochelle Madrid is taken into custody as a material witness. Absent Madrid’s recovery and its results, he was slated for conviction.

While charges are being drawn against the ex-wife, Lucas has a brainstorm. His own sense of clarity has improved because while mentoring David the issues holding him back became more clear to him with Scott Sutherland’s help. Lucas and Linda Lawson then set a trap for the real killer. It proves fruitful. Once the real killer is identified, Lucas shares with Linda Lawson what he has learned about himself from his experiences during this investigation and the two of them make a plan for their future. There is light at the end of the tunnel.