Public Defender Hires Criminal, Senate OKs Tribal Child Alert System Bill

Mar 23, 2018

Public Defender Hires Man Convicted In Courthouse ScamThe Associated Press

One of the men sent to federal prison and ordered to pay millions of dollars in restitution for a courthouse corruption scandal that rocked New Mexico politics has been hired by the state Law Offices of the Public Defender.

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur is defending the hiring of Toby Martinez, former administrator of the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse.

Baur says Martinez was the most qualified applicant for the paralegal position.

Martinez along with former Senate President Pro Tem Manny Aragon and others were accused of bilking the state out of $4.2 million in the construction of the $83 million courthouse a decade ago.

Martinez pleaded guilty to taking more than $2 million. He was released from prison in 2013.

The general counsel for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office is questioning the hiring.

Senate OKs Bill To Expand Child Alert System To Tribal LandThe Associated Press

The U.S. Senate has approved a bill that expands a child abduction alert system to tribal land.

The bill is named for Ashlynne Mike, an 11-year-old girl who was lured into a van on the Navajo Nation in May 2016, sexually assaulted and killed. An Amber Alert wasn't issued until the day after she was reported missing. Her body was found near Shiprock, New Mexico.

The bill cleared the Senate on Thursday. It now goes to President Donald Trump.

The bill gives tribes direct access to federal grants that law enforcement agencies use for Amber Alert systems. It also makes permanent a pilot program that offers training for tribes.

The U.S. Department of Justice would have a year to review any challenges tribes face in accessing state or regional systems.

Tuition Hike, Pay Raises On Tap For University Of New MexicoAlbuquerque Journal, Association Press

Regents at New Mexico's flagship university have approved a tuition hike and pay raises for faculty and staff.

University of New Mexico regents voted following a budget summit Thursday to increase tuition by 2.5 percent. Students will pay $7 more per credit hour for upper-division and some graduate courses, and fees will increase 2.39 percent.

The Albuquerque Journal reports new revenue generated from the tuition increase will support campus safety measures, faculty retention efforts and investments in the curriculum.

An extra $443,000 will be funneled into student financial aid.

The 1 percent salary bump for faculty and staff who have a satisfactory job performance will come primarily from a compensation-related increase in state appropriations.

Environmentalists Seek To Block New Mexico Border Wall WorkAssociated Press

A coalition of environmental groups is seeking to stop work to replace existing vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border in southern New Mexico.

The groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday, claiming the U.S. Department of Homeland Security does not have authority to waive environmental laws as a way to speed construction along a 20-mile stretch near the Santa Teresa port of entry.

The $73 million contract for the work was awarded to a Montana company in February, but it's unclear when construction will start.

Environmentalists also sued over border wall work in California. A federal judge sided with the Trump administration in the case, rejecting arguments that the administration overreached by waiving laws requiring environmental and other reviews before construction could begin. An appeal is pending.

Officials Investigate Death Of Man Who Likely Jumped From TrainAssociated Press

Doña Ana County Sheriff's detectives are investigating the death of a man believed to have jumped from a moving train.

They say it appears the 26-year-old man died from blunt force trauma to the head, likely from a rock.

Detectives believe he tried to jump from the train and misjudged the landing.

The name of the man hasn't been released yet. Authorities think he's from central Texas or Louisiana.

A BNSF Railway employee reportedly saw the body and notified authorities.

The body was found last Thursday near the railroad tracks, approximately 12 miles northwest of Interstate 10.

Lawmakers Call For Task Force On School SecurityAssociated Press

A panel of New Mexico lawmakers is calling for a special task force to be created to consider and recommend legislation that could help address security concerns on public school campuses around the state.

The vote by the Legislative Finance Committee came Thursday during a hearing in which numerous suggestions were floated for preventing school shootings and strategies that would help law enforcement with their response.

Sen. George Muñoz, a Democrat from Gallup, initially called for a special legislative session, saying the problems need to be fixed before the next school year begins in August. Lawmakers aren't scheduled to meet again for a regular session until January.

Fellow legislators argued that an actual plan for addressing the problem would be needed before a special session could be called. However, they supported forming the task force as a way to begin discussions.

Jury Convicts Albuquerque Man For False ImprisonmentAssociated Press

A jury has convicted an Albuquerque man in the beating case connected to the killing and mutilation of a 41-year-old man last year.

Mitchell Overhand on Wednesday was found guilty on charges of false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence. He was acquitted of other charges.

Authorities had implicated Overhand, Chase Smotherman and Mariah Ferry in attacking Matthew Tressler.

Tressler had told authorities that the trio had abducted him, and he was shown photos of the dead body of his friend John Soyka.

Smotherman and Ferry have been charged with murder for Soyka's death. They have pleaded not guilty.

Overhand as a teenager was convicted in the 1980s of killing his parents and burying their bodies in the backyard. He was released from prison in 2010.