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MON: New Mexico governor issues pardons to 6 people, + More

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New Mexico governor issues pardons to 6 people - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday pardoned six people for convictions ranging from fraud and larceny to burglary and drug trafficking.

The pardons represent another round of clemency decisions for the first-term Democratic governor who is seeking reelection. She has pardoned 56 people overall.

The governor's office said nearly all of the pardoned offenses stem from crimes committed a decade or more ago and all but one involved non-violent offenses.

Among those pardoned was Cynthia Jaramillo, who escaped from serial killer David Parker Ray in 1999. The governor's office said Jaramillo, who had a drug trafficking conviction on her record, has since dedicated her life to supporting women facing homelessness and addiction.

The others were Bridgette Yvette Tabor, Jack Ferguson, Travis Earl Gatling, Randall E. Johnston and Kathleen Woerter.

The governor's pardoning power extends to all crimes committed under state law except for impeachment and treason. A pardon restores certain rights, such as the right to vote and the right to hold public office.

The state Parole Board reviews pardon applications and makes non-binding recommendations to the governor. The board's recommendations for those who benefited from the most recent round of pardons were not immediately available on Monday.

Lujan Grisham's predecessor, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, pardoned just three people during her eight years in office. Martinez denied at least 72 pardon applications, including 13 in which the state Parole Board had recommended approval.

Lawmakers ask about self-sufficiency of New Mexico spaceport - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

Some members of a legislative financial oversight committee asked Monday whether Spaceport America will ever be self-sufficient, and they'll likely have to wait months for an answer.

Public funds bankrolled the years-long construction of the desert outpost in southern New Mexico, and figures presented during a meeting of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee showed the Legislature provided about $2 million in general fund dollars for the fiscal year that ended this summer.

Another appropriation of state funding is budgeted for the current fiscal year, and executive director Scott McLaughlin told the lawmakers gathered in Truth or Consequences — just west of the spaceport — that the state funds will help to stabilize the budget and allow for hiring additional personnel.

McLaughlin said he has never made promises about being revenue neutral but that about 65% of revenue now comes from customer leases and fees and he hopes to grow that number.

He also told lawmakers the spaceport has broader impacts on economic development in the region, brings in tax revenues and plays a role in educational programs focused on science and technology.

A more comprehensive study is being done to answer questions about self-sufficiency and economic effects, McLaughlin said. It could be six months before a report is released.

The spaceport is home to anchor tenant Virgin Galactic, and a handful of other aerospace ventures have used the port for testing and vertical launches. Virgin Galactic anticipates commercial flights in 2023.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat, noted that Virgin Galactic's stock price is a fraction of what it was when the company went public. He also pointed to recent announcements that the company's special carrier planes and rocket ships would be built out of state, while taxpayers in Dona Ana and Sierra counties continue to see a portion of their sales tax go toward paying off construction bonds for the spaceport.

"This is a very detailed, complicated issue that we need more time on," Cervantes said, adding that continued oversight will be key.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat and the committee's chairman, urged spaceport officials to look for ways to get into what he called the freight business, in which more companies are launching satellites and looking for options when it comes to re-entry for rockets and capsules.

While the notion of launching paying customers into space is romantic, he said "there's a significant amount of business that could be made in freight."

Settlement deadline looms in Rio Grande Supreme Court case - Danielle Prokop, El Paso Matters via Source New Mexico 

An agreement to resolve the pending U.S. Supreme Court dispute over Rio Grande water is approaching its “drop-dead” date of Sept. 23, even as parties described “choppy waters” on the settlement front.

A settlement would resolve the nearly decade-old lawsuit where Texas alleged New Mexico’s pumping of groundwater below Elephant Butte shorts Texas’ share of Rio Grande water, and violates the 1938 agreement to share the water. The lawsuit has cost New Mexico and Texas taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, and a trial would extend the time and up the costs.

At a virtual status hearing Tuesday, Special Master Judge Michael Melloy, a U.S. Circuit judge, ordered the parties to confidentially share settlement drafts with all involved attorneys by the end of next week to prepare an agreement for the upcoming deadline.

Attorneys representing New Mexico, Texas, the federal government and Colorado — the primary parties in the case — said Texas submitted a draft settlement document regarding its allegations against New Mexico.

Confidential talks outlining the broad strokes of the agreement have included irrigation districts, city governments and local utilities over the past few months, said Lee Leininger from the U.S. Department of Justice.

“We continue to make progress,” Leininger said. “There’s choppy waters, but we are continuing the course.”

Negotiations continue, however, on the roles between the federal government, the state of New Mexico, and parties such as the cities of Albuquerque, Las Cruces, the Elephant Butte Irrigation district, and other “intrastate” issues are still being ironed out.

Leininger said the federal government expects a final draft for review by the agreed deadline of Sept. 23, which would be sent for review and require approval from the top officials at the DOJ. Other attorneys said they could get signatures approving the document “within a matter of weeks, not months.”

The document will most likely not be made public until all parties signed and agreed upon it.

THE BACK AND FORTH

Only attorneys from the involved states and the federal government have seen the draft agreement, due to confidentiality agreements during negotiations.

Jeff Wechsler, New Mexico’s lead attorney, said all involved were kept up to date on the settlement’s impact.

Attorneys for the groups outside of the case, such as irrigation districts, municipalities and farming associations, said they wanted greater inclusion in the draft settlement agreement or technical discussions on the “intrastate” New Mexico issues. These groups are not a party to the lawsuit, but offer the court information and insight that has bearing on the case — called amici curiae, or “friends of the court.”

Any plan to change deliveries of water from New Mexico to Texas has to include El Paso irrigators, said Maria O’Brien, who is representing El Paso County Water Improvement District No 1.

“Words matter,” O’Brien said. “We have not seen an outline, we have not seen a draft, we don’t have all the different pieces.”

Samantha Barncastle, the attorney for Elephant Butte Irrigation District, urged confidentiality of the draft agreements, saying that a draft leak could be “inflammatory if they reach the streets on the Lower Rio Grande.”

“If we see drafts leaking out, I worry that certain people might take certain actions in response to those drafts,” she said.

Melloy ordered the states and federal government to allow the amici attorneys to access the drafts no later than Sept. 2, after signing confidentiality agreements. This allows attorney’s to read the drafts and discuss them with their clients, but not give out copies at this time.

Stuart Somach, the lead attorney for Texas, described remaining “hopeful, but skeptical” about settlement prospects. Somach said he is still waiting for comments from the federal government and negotiating language with Colorado.

“If there’s no agreement by Sept. 23, Texas is going to walk away from the negotiation table and (turn) our attention to trial,” Somach said.

If there’s no agreement, Somach urged Melloy to schedule a trial as soon as December, adding “I don’t know that you could resolve this case for a settlement without the state of Texas being on board.”

Parties will appear before Melloy in-person Sept. 27, after the deadline.

“We’ll either talk about how we’re going to get the settlement approved and to the Supreme Court, or we’re going to talk about trial mechanics,” Melloy said.

New Mexico man charged with supporting Islamic State group - Associated Press

A New Mexico man has been arrested and charged with trying to provide material support to the Islamic State group and shutting down an online platform that could have tied two other men to similar charges.

Herman Leyvoune Wilson, 45, of Albuquerque, was arrested Friday and will remain in custody pending a scheduled Tuesday arraignment in federal court, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico said. Wilson's newly appointed federal public defender did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the charges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office statement said Wilson, also known as Bilal Mu'Min Abdullah, was indicted earlier in the week by a federal grand jury on the charges related to the Islamic State group, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization.

Federal prosecutors believe Wilson was trying to establish an "Islamic State Center" in New Mexico that would teach Islamic State group ideology, provide martial arts training and serve as a haven for people preparing to fight for the group in the U.S. and abroad.

Two men arrested in September 2020 for providing material support to the Islamic State group testified that Wilson had radicalized them to the group's ideology. Prosecutors say that afterward Wilson allegedly shut down an online platform that could have tied the men to his group.

Kristopher Matthews and Jaylin Molina were arrested for providing material support to the Islamic State group and later pleaded guilty to that charge in the Western District of Texas. Prosecutors accused them of plotting to bomb or shoot up sites including the White House and Trump Tower in New York City.

The men were later convicted by a U.S. court in Texas. Matthews, 36, of South Carolina, was recently sentenced to 20 years in prison, and Molina, 24, of Cost, Texas, got 18 years.

Albuquerque woman accused of embezzling $175K from employer - Associated Press

An Albuquerque woman is accused of embezzling more than $175,000 from her former employer over a six-year span, according to authorities.

A criminal complaint filed earlier this month in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court shows 61-year-old Lisa Martinez is facing a second-degree felony charge of embezzlement.

Martinez worked as an accountant for an environmental remediation and construction company based in Edgewood, New Mexico from May 2011 to May 2018.

Authorities said Martinez handled the company's accounting and also managed payroll and distributed per diem payments to employees.

The company's owners told police they began noticing discrepancies in the accounting shortly after Martinez left.

According to the complaint, Martinez is accused of depositing the money in her bank account. She allegedly tried to disguise the payments by documenting that they were going to employees who no longer worked for the company.

It was unclear Sunday if Martinez has a lawyer yet for her case.

Her arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 14, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

NAACP supports removal of Cowboys for Trump cofounder - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

The NAACP is supporting efforts to bar a New Mexico-based county commissioner from public office, alleging that the Cowboys for Trump cofounder has sought to disenfranchise voters -- including people of color -- and stoke insurrection.

The nation's oldest civil rights organization urged a state district court judge to remove and disqualify Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin from holding future public office, noting Griffin's presence at the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection and his recent refusal to certify local results of New Mexico's June 7 primary election.

Written final arguments and judgement are pending after a two-day bench trial against Griffin, who has represented himself without legal counsel.

In a court filing Tuesday, the NAACP noted that Griffin attempted to draw comparisons between the Jan. 6 insurrection and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"Lawful protests and demonstrations in support of civil rights and the Black Lives Matter movement are fundamentally different from the insurrectionist conduct that occurred on Jan. 6," the NAACP said in its briefing.

The lawsuit's three plaintiffs argue that Griffin should be disqualified from holding public office on the basis of a clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that holds that anyone who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution be barred from office for engaging in insurrection or rebellion or giving aid or comfort to the nation's enemies.

Griffin has invoked free speech guarantees in his defense and argues that removing him from office would cut against the will of the people and set a "dangerous precedent."

Elected in 2018, Griffin withstood a recall vote last year but isn't running for reelection or other office in November.

"If the plaintiffs prevail and a single judge subverts the will of the great people of Otero County, it will only be further proof of the tyranny we currently live under," Griffin said Friday in an email. "There was already a recall effort waged against me after Jan. 6. In that recall effort the people of Otero County spoke and the recall failed."

Griffin was convicted in federal court of a misdemeanor for entering Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021, without going inside. He was sentenced to 14 days and given credit for time served.

The NAACP has also highlighted attempts by Griffin to invoke the plight of civil rights activists of the 1960s in his own defense. The NAACP briefing also denounces Griffin's prior criticism of those who support performances at football games of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, also known as the Black National Anthem.

In a July 2020 selfie video, Griffin suggested supporters of the Black National Anthem "go back to Africa and form your little football teams over in Africa and you can play on an old beat-out dirt lot."

Griffin has called his comments a poor choice words to express what he sees as a double standard that holds white people responsible for racist behavior.

"If there was a group of white people wanting to play a 'white national anthem' I would have had the same response to them," Griffin said Friday in response to the NAACP briefing. "And as a white person I'd be disgusted by that idea."

Griffin voted in June against certification of local primary election results based on a "gut feeling" without specific objections.

New Mexico surpasses 1,000 weed industry licenses - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

Less than 6 months since recreational weed became legal in New Mexico, the state has issued over 1,000 cannabis licenses.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the state’s Cannabis Control Division presented on the industry’s growth at legislative committee hearing this week.

So far, the industry has brought in close to $88 million in sales.

Some lawmakers and industry professionals expressed concern over fairness in the local industry.

Democratic Sen. Joseph Cervantes said a small group of longtime operators control the state’s market.

Other lawmakers and industry professionals pointed to the lack of a cap on the number of licenses the state can issue as risking a flooded market.

Democratic Sen. Katy Duhigg said other states with unlimited licensure have had the bottom fall out of their industries, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the same happened in New Mexico.

She said, if it does, a lot of people will lose a lot of money.

New Mexico Supreme Court dismisses inmates' COVID lawsuit - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is upholding a lower court decision to dismiss a lawsuit that sought to release prison inmates because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The court issued its opinion Thursday in a 2020 case brought by several inmates, the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. The plaintiffs claimed the state's COVID-19 response in prisons violated inmates' constitutional rights.

Aside from reducing the prison population, the lawsuit sought to require the state to safeguard the health of inmates.

The inmates and the advocacy groups had alleged that the state was refusing to enforce its own mandates for social distancing, heightened hygiene practices and quarantine measures. The complaint suggested that prison conditions had "become so intolerable as to constitute cruel and unusual punishment."

The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court that none of the inmates named in the lawsuit had filed grievances with the Corrections Department over the conditions and therefore did not exhaust administrative remedies before going to court.

The court also directed one of its rules committees to submit recommendations for rules of criminal procedure to govern class actions by inmates bringing certain petitions to challenge the conditions of their confinement. That's because habeas corpus petitions currently are not governed by the procedural rules for class actions in civil cases.

Child killed, 4 people hurt in school bus crash in Arizona - Associated Press

A child was killed and four other people were seriously injured Sunday in a school bus crash in eastern Arizona, authorities said.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officials said 19 people were on the bus around 9 a.m. when it was hit from behind by a semi-truck on Interstate 40 near Sanders.

DPS officials said traffic had slowed on the highway because of an earlier rollover crash.

They said the semi hit the school bus and the impact pushed the bus into a van, but no other injuries were reported.

DPS didn't immediately disclose the name and age of the child who died in the bus crash or information on the four injured people.

Sanders is located in Apache County and is about 55 miles (88 kilometers) east of Holbrook.