ABQ To Hear Fewer Criminal Cases, Unions Question Furloughs

Apr 26, 2017

Albuquerque Prosecutor: Fewer Criminal Cases To Go To CourtThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal 

Albuquerque area's chief prosecutor says his office is going to focus on the worst offenders and only try about half the criminal cases referred by law enforcement.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the approach announced Wednesday by District Attorney Raul Torrez will significantly reduce the number of criminal cases sent to Bernalillo County criminal courts.

Torrez says the office in recent years has tried to prosecute three-quarters of the cases referred by law enforcement and only got convictions in 44 percent.

Torrez says his office will try to prosecute the most dangerous offenders and try to put many other defendants into drug treatment or diversion programs.

According to Torrez, the office's poor conviction rate has allowed violent offenders to avoid lengthy prison sentences and commit additional crimes.

Unions Question Need To Furlough New Mexico State WorkersThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican 

Unions representing New Mexico state employees are speaking out against Gov. Susana Martinez's plan to save money by furloughing government workers.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports State Personnel Director Justin Najaka sent letters to union leaders this week indicating Martinez is moving forward with the furloughs. The notice comes after warnings from Martinez that New Mexico could run out of cash before the budget year ends in June.

But union leaders aren't convinced the state is as cash-strapped as Martinez has claimed.

They argue the furlough plan is a political stunt by the Republican governor who has been in an ongoing standoff with Democratic lawmakers over the budget.

A state personnel office spokesman says Martinez doesn't want to furlough employees but has to leave her options open.

'Significant Late Season Winter Storm' To Sock New MexicoThe Associated Press

Spring officially began over a month ago but the National Weather Service says much of New Mexico can expect another strong dose of winter weather this weekend.

A special statement issued Wednesday by the Albuquerque's forecast office says a "significant late season winter storm" will hit northern and central New Mexico late Friday through early Sunday.

Forecasts say impacts of the system will include rain turning to snow Friday night and Saturday morning even in lower elevations, with significant snow accumulation expected in the northern mountains and across northeastern New Mexico.

Accumulating snow is expected along Interstate 25 in northern New Mexico and possibly along Interstate 40 in eastern New Mexico.

To cap it off, a late-season freeze is forecast Saturday night and Sunday morning at some lower-elevation locations.

Attorney Sidelined in New Mexico State Budget Standoff - The Associated Press 

The lead attorney for the New Mexico Legislature in a legal challenge of major budget vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez has withdrawn from the case at the urging of a state agency.

Attorney Thomas Hnasko notified the Supreme Court of his withdrawal from efforts to block vetoes by the governor that would defund the legislative branch and all state institutions of higher education. He declined further comment Tuesday.

In court filings, Hnasko says the New Mexico Risk Management Division requested he leave the case based on a "perceived conflict of interest." The private law firm where Hnasko works, Hinkle Shanor LLP, is contracted as defense counsel by the agency.

The Supreme Court case is part of an escalating feud between the Democratic-led Legislature and the state's Republican governor over how to resolve the state's financial crisis.

Leading Democratic lawmakers said Tuesday there was no conflict of interest and that the Martinez administration was attempting to delay action by the Supreme Court, which has scheduled oral arguments for May 15.

Prominent Powwow Set To Begin In Wake Of Pipeline ProtestsThe Associated Press

One of North America's most prominent powwows is set to begin in New Mexico.

The Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque comes in the wake of pipeline protests in North Dakota that became a historic display of Native American solidarity.

Last year's powwow attracted about 3,000 dancers from hundreds of tribes in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It routinely draws at least 80,000 visitors.

The event, which opens Thursday, is intended to be nonpolitical, but Larry Yazzie, its official announcer, said people will be reminded why they are coming together, and that the "water protectors" — those who joined the pipeline protests — will be acknowledged.

The Gathering of Nations will be held at Expo New Mexico after the organization parted ways in a public spat with its longtime host — the University of New Mexico and its basketball arena.

Santa Fe Soda Tax Effort Gets Boost From Michael Bloomberg The Associated Press

Proponents of a tax on sugary sodas in New Mexico's capital city have raised and spent more in political contributions than opponents in efforts to sway the outcome of a ballot initiative, new financial statements indicated on Tuesday.

New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg contributed just over $800,000 in recent weeks to a political committee that is pushing for voter approval of the new tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Santa Fe.

The contributions — $400,000 in cash and additional in-kind support through advertising, research and consulting — put the pro-tax committee Pre-K for Santa Fe ahead financially of a rival committee backed by the soft-drink industry that opposes the soda tax.

Voters in Santa Fe have until May 2 to decide whether to levy a new 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks to help expand local prekindergarten programs.

Pre-K for Santa Fe has received nearly $1.5 million so far in cash and in-kind contributions to promote the tax, and spent over $1.3 million. The anti-tax committee Better Way for Santa Fe and Pre-K has raised a little over $1.2 million, mostly from the American Beverage Association.

Critics of the soda tax say it would be an unnecessary burden on taxpayers, and questioned whether it will provide a sustainable source of revenue to the city if it discourages soda consumption.

Proponents of the tax including Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales say it is needed to expand quality prekindergarten care to about 1,000 children in the city whose parents cannot find or afford it. The tax is expected to raise about $7.5 million in its first year.

A group called Progress New Mexico that opposes the tax on behalf of local business and restaurants has spent nearly $13,000 on its campaign.

Concerns about the political influence of untraceable "dark money" are being voiced on both sides of the soda-tax debate.

The city of Santa Fe's campaign finance board on Monday reprimanded the Albuquerque-based libertarian Rio Grande Foundation for failing to file financial disclosure statements about an online video that was critical of the soda tax proposal and related publicity.

Navajo Nation Hiring Officials After Clearing Housing Board The Associated Press, The Gallup Independent

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye is looking for new housing authority board members after the council voted to remove the previous board.

Begaye has received more than 30 applications and three unnamed candidates have already been selected, the Gallup Independent reported Monday.

"We want all new people," he said. "We don't want people that have served before. No politicians. We want a different group of people."

"In this administration we are not making favors. Not because you campaigned for me you are going to get a job," Begaye said.

The council voted 16-4 on Thursday in favor of removing the commissioners, although the emergency legislation had not yet been completed as of Sunday.

A congressional delegation believes the tribe's housing dollars were at risk because the housing authority failed to fulfill its mission, Begaye said.

Begaye criticized the board in a letter addressed to the previous commissioners, accusing them of abusing their power to favor friends and family by prioritizing the construction of their homes or by funding their personal projects.

Hospital drama returns to New Mexico for fourth season - The Associated Press

NBC's hospital drama "The Night Shift" will be returning to New Mexico to film its fourth season.

The New Mexico Film Office made the announcement this week.

Film Office Director Nick Maniatis says principal photography will begin this month in Albuquerque and will continue through July.

The production will take place at Albuquerque Studios.

Set in San Antonio and filmed in Albuquerque, the drama stars Dublin-born Eoin Macken, who plays Dr. TC Callahan, as he tries to run a red-eye emergency room in a largely Mexican-American city.

The production is expected to employ about 350 New Mexico crew members and about 2,500 background talent.

Judge Refuses To Drop Ex-New Mexico Deputy's Murder Case – The Associated Press

A judge has denied a request from a former New Mexico deputy accused of killing his partner in 2014 to have his murder case dismissed.

The judge also rejected another motion filed by Tai Chan's attorney last week that sought to disqualify Dona Ana County District Attorney Mark D'Antonio from prosecuting the case.

Chan is charged with murder in the shooting death of Deputy Jeremy Martin after what authorities have said was an alcohol-fueled argument in Las Cruces.

Chan is set to face a retrial in May. The first trial was declared a mistrial.

Chan's attorneys have called for the case's dismissal over allegations of "outrageous government conduct" and a botched police investigation.

Defense Attorney John Day said Monday his team respects the judge's decision and is preparing for trial.

Court Removes Obstacle To Releasing Wolves In New Mexico – The Associated Press

A federal court on Tuesday removed an obstacle to the U.S. government's plan to release more endangered wolves in New Mexico over the state's objections, but it was not clear whether additional animals would be reintroduced under the Trump administration.

A Denver-based federal appeals court on Tuesday lifted a preliminary injunction that prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from releasing more Mexican gray wolves after New Mexico refused to agree to the plan.

The state Game and Fish Department is disappointed, but it will keep pursuing the case in federal court in New Mexico, where it was originally filed, spokesman Lance Cherry said.

New Mexico could ask the appeals court to reconsider or ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Even with the injunction lifted, it wasn't immediately known whether wolf releases would continue under President Donald Trump, who has slowed or reversed other environmental initiatives.