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FRI: Alec Baldwin manslaughter case will move forward after judge denies motion to dismiss, +More

FILE - In this image from video released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, Alec Baldwin speaks with investigators following a fatal shooting on a movie set in Santa Fe, N.M. No one is objecting to a settlement agreement to resolve allegations of workplace safety violations in the 2021 shooting death of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin on the set of a Western movie. (Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)
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Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office
Actor Alec Baldwin attends the 2019 PEN America Literary Gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in New York. A New Mexico judge plans to rule on a request to dismiss Baldwin's manslaughter charge because the gun in question was damaged during forensic teting.

Alec Baldwin’s case on track for trial in July as judge denies request to dismiss- Associated Press

A court ruling on Friday put an involuntary manslaughter case against Alec Baldwin on track for trial in early July as a judge denied a request to dismiss the case on complaints that key evidence was damaged by the FBI during forensic testing.

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sided with prosecutors in rejecting a motion to dismiss the case.

Defense attorneys had argued that the gun in the fatal shooting was heavily damaged during FBI forensic testing before it could be examined for possible modifications or problems that might exonerate the actor-producer.

The ruling removes one of the last hurdles before prosecutors can bring the case to trial with jury selection scheduled for July 9 in Santa Fe.

At trial, attorneys plan to call on witnesses from a court-approved list of more than 60 people. They include film director Joel Souza, who was wounded in the shooting as well as assistant director Dave Halls, who earlier pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon, and an array of first responders, investigators, firearms experts and close-range witnesses to the shooting.

Baldwin isn't listed but has the right to testify at his own trial.

During a rehearsal on the set of the Western film “Rust” in 2021, Baldwin pointed a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when the revolver went off, killing her and injuring director Souza as the bullet became lodged in his shoulder. Baldwin has maintained that he pulled back the gun’s hammer but not the trigger and has pleaded not guilty.

The FBI conducted an accidental discharge test on the gun by striking it from several angles with a rawhide mallet, eventually breaking the gun. Prosecutors plan to present evidence at trial that they say shows the firearm “could not have fired absent a pull of the trigger” and was working properly before the shooting.

Baldwin has twice been charged in Hutchins’ death. Prosecutors dismissed an earlier charge, then refiled it after receiving a new analysis of the revolver that Baldwin pointed at Hutchins.

“Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed is serving an 18 month sentence on a conviction for involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting, as she appeals the jury verdict. It's likely the prosecutors will call her to testify at Baldwin's trial, despite her refusal to answer questions at a pretrial interview and instead invoke her constitutional rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. A judge refused a request to compel her testimony by providing immunity.

Marlowe Sommer said that destruction of internal components of the firearm “is not highly prejudicial” to a fair trial and that Baldwin's legal team failed to demonstrate bad faith by investigators.

While Baldwin “contends that an unaltered firearm is critical to his case, other evidence concerning the functionality of the firearm on Oct. 21, 2021, weighs against the defendant’s assertions,” the judge wrote.

Sheriff’s investigators initially sent the revolver to the FBI for routine testing, but when an FBI analyst heard Baldwin say in an ABC TV interview that he never pulled the trigger, the agency told local authorities they could conduct an accidental discharge test, though it might damage the gun.

The FBI was told by a team of investigators to go ahead, and tested the revolver by striking it from several angles with a rawhide mallet. One of those strikes fractured the gun’s firing and safety mechanisms.

Defense attorneys say that the “outrageous” decision to move forward with testing may have destroyed exculpatory evidence.

Prosecutors said it was “unfortunate” the gun broke, but it wasn’t destroyed and the parts are still available. They say Baldwin’s attorneys still have the ability to defend their client and question the evidence against him.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said prosecutors will have to fully disclose at trial the destructive nature of the FBI forensic testing on the gun, including what was lost in the process and its relevance in reaching a verdict.

Several hours of testimony about the gun and forensic testing during online hearings in recent days provided a dress rehearsal for the possible trial against Baldwin. Attorneys for Baldwin gave long and probing cross-examinations of the lead detective, an FBI forensic firearm investigator and the prosecution’s independent gun expert, Lucien Haag.

Prosecutors plan to present evidence that they say shows the firearm “could not have fired absent a pull of the trigger” and was working properly before the shooting.

Since the 2021 shooting, the filming of “Rust” resumed but moved to Montana under an agreement with Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, which made him an executive producer. The completed movie has not yet been released for public viewing.

NM governor’s office continues forced treatment pitch to lawmakers, could return in full in 2025- Source New Mexico

While New Mexico’s governor has made her forced mental health treatment proposal more palatable for lawmakers, it could still change before the special session in July, and it could come back in its original form next year.

The Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee invited Ellen Pinnes, an advocate with The Disability Coalition, and attorney Denali Wilson to talk about potential impacts on New Mexicans’ civil rights that could result from proposed changes in the law around mental health.

Pinnes said parts of her presentation had been made out of date by Wednesday morning’s news that the governor was paring down her proposal that originally sought to rewrite a 2016 law governing court-ordered mental health treatment.

“Some of what is in here is still good information, but some of it is no longer immediately on the table,” Pinnes said. “They may very well be on the table at a not so far future date.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday the governor will continue to have discussions with lawmakers about the “assisted outpatient treatment” bill between now and the special session.

Jodi McGinnis said there could be more changes to the proposal before then, and that the governor is still interested in her full proposal for the regular session in January.

The upcoming special session was formed to focus on public safety issues. Pinnes quoted from the governor’s announcement, which states the goal is to “reduce the danger and risk New Mexico communities face every day.”

And yet, the centerpiece of Lujan Grisham’s special session agenda was changes to “assisted outpatient treatment” law, Pinnes said.

“Although she’s narrowed down what she wants to do with the (assisted outpatient treatment) statute, she’s still focusing on people with mental illness for a large part of what’s going on here, which simply perpetuates the myth that people with mental illness are dangerous and that’s who committing crimes,” Pinnes said.

People with mental illness do commit crime, but they are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators of it, she said.

New Mexico law already allows judges to exert extensive control over a person’s life using an “assisted outpatient treatment” order, Pinnes said, including supervising someone’s living arrangements, and ordering them to take medication even if it’s not right for them, for example.

‘Treatment outcomes are the most effective when engagement is voluntary’Denali Wilson, a staff attorney with the Las Cruces office of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said people will have good health outcomes when they get support in the communities where they live.

“The most effective interventions are those that return people to the community as early as possible, or prevent their removal at all,” Wilson said.

It is more difficult for people to engage or experience any positive outcomes if intervention happens later in the criminal process, she said.

“We know treatment outcomes are the most effective when engagement is voluntary,” Wilson said.

Involuntary mental health treatment may constitute discrimination under Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Pinnes told lawmakers. “Be aware, you have this potential legal threat hanging over (assisted outpatient treatment).

Proponents also say “assisted outpatient treatment” is effective because a court orders it, what’s called the “black robe effect.” But Pinnes said there’s no existing research that empirically examines the phenomenon.

While a judge’s order might have some coercive effect, Pinnes said, “that’s not what makes the difference.” Connecting people to services, and making them feel supported and cared for, does make a difference, she said.

Proponents of “assisted outpatient treatment” also say it is needed because people with mental illness don’t recognize they’re sick, and must be forced into treatment because they won’t do it voluntarily, Pinnes said. “That is really fraught,” she said.

“Forced treatment is traumatizing,” she said. “People should get the services they’re eligible for without a court order.”

Potential for constitutional challengeDepriving someone of their liberty by confining them or putting them into treatment against their will implicates their constitutional rights, Wilson said. Institutionalization or commitment to a hospital is a pretty significant deprivation of liberty, she said, and the government must justify that with a good reason.

“Whether its speech or bodily autonomy and the right to refuse treatment, a deprivation of rights by the government has to be justified by a compelling, nondiscriminatory, legitimate government interest,” Wilson said.

The day before, Lujan Grisham’s general counsel Holly Agajanian told the committee “states and legislators in particular have extreme latitude” in determining whether someone is dangerous to themselves or others.

On Thursday, Wilson said that’s not true.

In the area of constitutional law, the question of whether someone’s dangerous involves possibly taking away their freedom, and therefore must be subject to “strict constitutional scrutiny,” which is the highest standard of review courts use to evaluate the constitutionality of government discrimination.

“Strict constitutional scrutiny is the least amount of latitude you can have,” Wilson said. “And whatever latitude there is in crafting a definition, the constitutional standard is dangerousness. If your definition creeps outside that, and includes things not related to dangerousness, it’s not one that is going to pass muster.”

The pared down proposal the governor’s office released on Wednesday, Wilson said, would still “dramatically” expand the definition of dangerousness “in pretty much every way that you could create a parameter around that definition.”

“This creates the possibility of overbreadth or overreach, which is really where we’re concerned, and where something like this could invite significant litigation,” Wilson said.

The Supreme Court rejects a nationwide opioid settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma KUNM News, Mark Sherman, Associated Press

TheSupreme Court on Thursday rejecteda nationwide settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma that would have shielded members of the Sackler family who own the company from civil lawsuits over the toll of opioids but also would have provided billions of dollars to combatthe opioid epidemic.

The decision also could affect other major bankruptcies, includingthe $2.4 billion bankruptcy plan for the Boy Scouts of America that has been approved by a federal judge, lawyers said.

New Mexico has received nearly $900 million in opioid settlement funds so far, according to a legislative finance committee report. The money has come from settlements from companies that distributed opioids such as Walgreens, CVS and Walmart. Sackler settlement would have added to that.

That money was split equally between state and local governments and legal fees, which totaled almost $250 million, or nearly 30%.

In Bernalillo County, the local governmentwill hold a series of meetings seeking input from the public on how to spend the funds. The first meeting will take place on Tuesday from 5-8 p.m. at theSouth Valley Multipurpose Center.

After deliberating more than six months, the justicesin a 5-4 vote blocked an agreement hammered out with state and local governments and victims. The Sacklers would have contributed up to $6 billion and given up ownership of the company but retained billions more. The agreement provided that the company would emerge from bankruptcy as a different entity, with its profits used for treatment and prevention.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said "nothing in present law authorizes the Sackler discharge."

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

"Opioid victims and other future victims of mass torts will suffer greatly in the wake of today's unfortunate and destabilizing decision," Kavanaugh wrote.

The high court hadput the settlement on hold last summer, in response to objections from the Biden administration.

It's unclear what happens next, though people involved in the case said they expect talks to resume. The members of the Sackler family branches who own Purdue suggested they'll return to negotiations.

"The unfortunate reality is that the alternative is costly and chaotic legal proceedings in courtrooms across the country," they said in a statement. "While we are confident that we would prevail in any future litigation given the profound misrepresentations about our families and the opioid crisis, we continue to believe that a swift negotiated agreement to provide billions of dollars for people and communities in need is the best way forward."

Edward Neiger, a lawyer representing more than 60,000 overdose victims, called the decision a major setback.

"The Purdue plan was a victim-centered plan that would provide billions of dollars to the states to be used exclusively to abate the opioid crisis and $750 million for victims of the crisis, so that they could begin to rebuild their lives," Neiger said in a statement. "As a result of the senseless three-year crusade by the government against the plan, thousands of people died of overdose, and today's decision will lead to more needless overdose deaths."

An opponent of the settlement praised the outcome.

Ed Bisch's 18-year-old son Eddie, died from an overdose after taking OxyContin in Philadelphia in 2001.

The older Bisch, who lives in New Jersey, has been speaking out against Purdue and Sackler family members ever since and is part of a relatively small but vocal group of victims and family members who opposed the settlement.

"This is a step toward justice. It was outrageous what they were trying to get away with," he said Thursday. "They have made a mockery of the justice system and then they tried to make a mockery of the bankruptcy system."

He said he would have accepted the deal if he thought it would have made a dent in the opioid crisis.

He's now calling on the Department of Justice to seek criminal charges against Sackler family members

Arguments in early December lasted nearly two hours in a packed courtroom as the justices seemed, by turns, unwilling to disrupt a carefully negotiated settlement and reluctant to reward the Sacklers.

The issue for the justices was whether the legal shield that bankruptcy provides can be extended to people such asthe Sacklers, who have not declared bankruptcy themselves. Lower courts had issued conflicting decisions over that issue, which also has implications for other major product liability lawsuits settled through the bankruptcy system.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee, an arm of the Justice Department, argued that the bankruptcy law does not permit protecting the Sackler family from being sued. During the Trump administration, the government supported the settlement.

The Biden administration had argued to the court that negotiations could resume, and perhaps lead to a better deal, if the court were to stop the current agreement.

Proponents of the plan said third-party releases are sometimes necessary to forge an agreement, and federal law imposes no prohibition against them.

But the court majority that also included Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Ketanji Brown Jackson and Clarence Thomas disagreed.

"The Sacklers seek greater relief than a bankruptcy discharge normally affords, for they hope to extinguish even claims for wrongful death and fraud, and they seek to do so without putting anything close to all their assets on the table," Gorsuch wrote. "Nor is what the Sacklers seek a traditional release, for they hope to have a court extinguish claims of opioid victims without their consent."

Congress could write special rules for opioid-related bankruptcies, he wrote.

And Kavanaugh, in dissent, urged lawmakers to do just that. "Only Congress can fix the chaos that will now ensue," he wrote.

Jason Amala, a lawyer representing more than 1,000 men who allege they were sexually abused as children by Boy Scout leaders and volunteers, said the decision could affect the Boy Scouts plan and others that employ similar releases from liability.

"The Supreme Court's decision is pretty simple," Amala said in a statement. "If you hurt someone, you and your insurance company will have to pay fair value to settle their claim. If you want bankruptcy protection, you will have to file your own bankruptcy, disclose your assets and liabilities, and pay whatever amount a bankruptcy judge decides is appropriate."

OxyContin first hit the market in 1996, and Purdue Pharma's aggressive marketing of it is often cited as a catalyst of the nationwide opioid epidemic, with doctors persuaded to prescribe painkillers with less regard for addiction dangers.

The drug and the Stamford, Connecticut-based company became synonymous with the crisis, even though the majority of pills being prescribed and used were generic drugs. Opioid-related overdose deaths have continued to climb, hitting 80,000 in recent years. Most of those are from fentanyl and other synthetic drugs.

The Purdue Pharma settlement would have ranked among the largest reached by drug companies, wholesalers and pharmacies to resolve epidemic-related lawsuits filed by state, local and Native American tribal governments and others. Those settlements have totaled more than $50 billion.

But the Purdue Pharma settlement would have been only the second so far to include direct payments to victims from a $750 million pool. Payouts would have ranged from about $3,500 to $48,000.

Sackler family members no longer are on the company's board, and they have not received payouts from it since before Purdue Pharma entered bankruptcy. In the decade before that, though, they were paid more than $10 billion, about half of which family members said went to pay taxes.

The case is Harrington v. Purdue Pharma, 22-859.

Retailers say Albuquerque shoplifting crackdown pushing thieves to Santa Fe- Santa Fe New Mexican

As retailers in Albuquerque report a recent drop in shoplifting amid a crackdown in the state’s most populous city, businesses in Santa Fe say they have seen an uptick in theft from their stores.

An increase in felony shoplifting charges this month in Santa Fe — including a few for the newly legislated offense of “organized retail crime” — suggests police and prosecutors in the capital city have been cracking down on shoplifting offenses at big-box retailers as well.

At a Thursday morning meeting of the New Mexico Organized Retail Crime Association — a group organized by the state Chamber of Commerce — Santa Fe retailers said losses from their stores have increased recently.

Bridget Dixson, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce, said she hears about theft from businesses weekly, and retailers are “frustrated” with the uptick in shoplifting.

“The Santa Fe Target is the number one Target in the state for retail crime right now,” Dixson said, adding many believe organized shoplifting rings have “been pushed in our direction” as a result of the crackdown in Albuquerque in recent months.

“I’m very confident we can solve that problem in our community as well,” Dixson said. “It’s not out of control — we do still have opportunities to get ahold of this.”

So far in June, felony shoplifting charges have been filed against 22 people in Santa Fe County.

That includes four charges of organized retail crime, a charge that was added to the state’s legal system in July 2023 to crack down on people suspected of running rings to resell stolen goods, often online.

Earlier this month, agents from the state Department of Justice filed organized retail crime charges against four people in Santa Fe, alleging they were running such a “fencing” ring out of a house on Calle la Resolana.

A statement of probable cause filed against one of the accused shows the shoplifting ring was discovered in an investigation by two security guards from the Santa Fe T.J. Maxx store, with contributions from guards at J.C. Penney, Home Depot and Target.

The house appeared to be an “intake point” for many “indigent or transient” people to bring merchandise stolen from retailers around Santa Fe, DOJ agents said in the statement.

Over a seven-hour period on a day in May, they wrote, 10 or more people were seen bringing newly packaged items to the residence.

Dixson said her goal is to encourage Santa Fe retailers to join the chamber’s organized retail crime group and participate in an online platform members use called Auror to track and report theft.

Users can post security footage, license plates or other information from shoplifting incidents to the platform, where police and other retailers can interact with those posts.

New Mexico Chamber of Commerce CEO Rob Black said the platform allows for “unprecedented” collaboration between retailers and law enforcement, crediting the platform — as well as the change in state law last year — for a “significant improvement in shoplifting prosecution.”

Black said retailers in Albuquerque have reported a decrease in loss over the last several months, while those in Santa Fe and Los Lunas have reported an uptick.

“It’s sort of pushed out that activity to other places,” he said, “So now we need to focus on those other areas where we’re still seeing those impacts.”

City of Santa Fe, Santa Fe County submit bid to host Sundance Film Festival- Santa Fe New Mexican

The City Different could be adding one more festival to its calendar, as the city of Santa Fe and Santa Fe County have submitted a joint bid to be the next location of the Sundance Film Festival.

Visit Santa Fe Executive Director Randy Randall said the city responded to a request for information after the Sundance Institute announced in April it was exploring a new location for its annual festival once its contract with Park City, Utah, expires after 2026.

“It would be a significant benefit to the city,” he said of the festival.

The proposal was submitted on behalf of the city and county by the Santa Fe Film Office, he said. Film Commissioner Jennifer LaBar-Tapia, who leads the office, said Thursday she was not at liberty to discuss the bid.

“We are under a really strict [nondisclosure agreement] at this point,” she said. “We’re going through the process, and that’s all I can really say.”

Several city councilors said they did not know anything about the proposal, which came up during a presentation from the Santa Fe Film and Digital Media Council at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

“Why don’t we take this offline, and we’ll talk about it,” Mayor Alan Webber said Wednesday in response to a question from Councilor Michael Garcia about whether the city had submitted a bid.

Garcia said at the meeting he was surprised the council had not been notified.

“If the city were to enter into any kind of an official contract, it would go before the City Council, and we’re not near that,” LaBar-Tapia said Thursday as to why councilors had not been involved.

County Commissioner Justin Greene said the proposal came up at a meeting earlier this year but that he was not privy to specifics.

“It was briefly announced at a County Commission meeting about two months ago acknowledging we were a party to this collaborative effort,” he said.

The city is host to a number of festivals in the spring and fall, including the Santa Fe International Film Festival and the Santa Fe International Literary Festival. Sundance takes place in January, which Randall said is one of the city’s slowest tourism months.

“We really don’t have an offseason any more, but it’s a slower time,” he said.

Hosting Sundance would show the city is “not just a seasonal destination,” Randall said.

While the festival could be a prestige and economic boon for the city — some estimates have put its economic impact to Utah at more than $100 million — Randall also acknowledged it would be a big lift.

“What’s required to put on a festival like that is pretty extensive,” he said.

If Sundance did express a desire to relocate to Santa Fe, there would be several years to prepare. The festival’s current contract with Park City expires in 2026, meaning the first festival in a new city would be in January 2027.

Should Sundance want to move to Santa Fe, Garcia said any decision should involve more than just elected officials.

“The impact that a festival such as Sundance would have on our city warrants a community discussion,” he said.

Several cities have gone public with their bids, including Boulder, Colo., and Atlanta, both of which are offering significant financial incentives.

The Utah Film Commission also put in a bid to keep the festival in state, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The city of Atlanta and its partners have pledged $2 million to support the festival and created a website touting the reasons the city would be a good fit for Sundance.

A coalition of partners submitted a proposal on behalf of Boulder last week which included a $1.5 million grant from the Colorado Economic Development Commission and $250,000 from the Colorado Office of Film, TV and Media. Like New Mexico, Colorado has been jockeying to expand its film industry.

“Colorado and the Boulder community are thrilled to be throwing our hat in the ring to become the next host of the Sundance Film Festival,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a news release last week. “This opportunity would create new jobs and drive economic development in Colorado.”

An April news release announcing the search process said the Sundance Institute is making sure that “inclusivity and sustainability are always at the forefront of the festival experience.” Institute spokeswoman Tammie Rosen declined Thursday to answer specific questions about the process.

“Throughout the [request for proposals] process, as the Institute is focused on completing a fair and comprehensive review of all possible partners, we will not be commenting at all on interest expressed or communities that approach us or those that bid,” she wrote in an email.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, LaBar-Tapia noted Sundance already has a connection to Santa Fe through its Native Lab program, which works with Indigenous filmmakers.

“We do have a Sundance presence that’s been in Santa Fe for 10 years,” she said.