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AG Seeks Resignation Of Embattled DA, Taxpayers To Pay More Than $130K For Pearce Legal Fees

Jun 12, 2018

New Mexico AG Seeks Resignation Of Embattled ProsecutorThe Associated Press

A southwestern New Mexico district attorney has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a 2016 traffic stop, and now New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas wants her to resign.

Francesca Martinez-Estevez pleaded guilty Monday in Las Cruces to reckless driving and two counts of disorderly conduct. Judge Douglas Driggers sentenced her to a year of unsupervised probation despite prosecutors' calls for her to spend more than a year in jail.

Martinez-Estevez initially faced multiple charges after the traffic stop near Silver City, including allegations that she abused her power. Officers thought Martinez-Estevez was impaired at the time but didn't test her for alcohol.

Balderas said he was frustrated with the outcome and that the integrity of the district attorney's office needs to be upheld.

Martinez-Estevez's attorney, Jim Foy, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

New Mexico District Attorney Refuses To ResignThe Associated Press

The lawyer for a New Mexico district attorney who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from a 2016 traffic stop is rebuffing calls by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas for his client to step down.

Jim Foy said Tuesday that Francesca Martinez-Estevez will not resign and that the decision by the judge was fair to issue a conditional discharge given that she had "an incredibly clean record."

Martinez-Estevez was ordered to serve one year of probation for reckless driving and disorderly conduct.

Martinez-Estevez initially faced multiple charges after the traffic stop near Silver City and was accused of abusing her power. Prosecutors are appealing an earlier decision to drop charges related to governmental conduct rules.

At the time of the stop, officers thought Martinez-Estevez was impaired but didn't test her. Internal investigations were done and the officers were disciplined for how they handled the stop.

Taxpayers To Pay More Than $130K For Campaign’s Legal FeesThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

New Mexico taxpayers will pay up to $133,000 to cover legal fees for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce's campaign.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Secretary of State's Office said the Republican's campaign could not transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars Pearce had accumulated running for Congress to finance his bid for governor. Then the office said the transferred funds would be capped at $11,000.

The Pearce campaign sued the state.

Rather than continue to fight the case, the two sides settled, with the state agreeing to pay some of the campaign's legal fees.

State Attorney General's Office spokesman David Carl said Monday the sides agreed lawyers can receive up to $133,032.15, or 85 percent of the legal fees the Pearce campaign incurred during the case.

New Mexico Health Exchange May Get Fifth Insurance Provider The Associated Press

Families and individuals shopping for health insurance on New Mexico's federally subsidized exchange may have more companies to choose from next year.

The Office of the Superintendent of Insurance said Monday that five companies have applied to offer exchange plans for 2019, including four companies that currently participate.

Agency spokeswoman Heather Widler says an affiliate of Presbyterian Health Services has proposed new exchange offerings in a development that could benefit consumers.

Widler says Presbyterian currently participates in the insurance exchange for small businesses and provides off-exchange individual policies. The company last participated in the exchange in 2016.

About 50,000 people currently receive health insurance through the state's health exchange portal, known as beWellnm. Average premium increases set records this year.

Fire Danger Prompts More Forest Closures In New MexicoAssociated Press

Another New Mexico forest will be closing to the public as a result of increasing fire danger across the region.

Officials with the Cibola National Forest say all portions of the Sandia and Mountainair ranger districts will close Friday. The Mount Taylor district in western New Mexico will close June 22.

The exception will be the Foothills Trail bordering Albuquerque's east side, the Sandia Peak Tram and the Sandia ranger office, which includes the Tijeras Pueblo site.

All campgrounds, trails, picnic areas and forest roads will be off limits and will remain so until the fire danger decreases substantially.

Violations of the closure order carry a mandatory appearance in federal court and are punishable as a misdemeanor by a fine of $5,000 and/or imprisonment.

The Santa Fe National Forest is already closed.

Colorado Forest To Close Due To Fire DangerAssociated Press

Extreme fire danger is shutting southwestern Colorado's San Juan National Forest, a rare tactic also being used in neighboring states as the U.S. Southwest struggles with severe drought.

Forest managers plan to close hundreds of miles of trails and thousands of miles of back roads to hikers, bikers, horseback riders and campers as soon as Tuesday. They want to prevent the possibility of an abandoned campfire or any other spark from starting a wildfire that could quickly spread in bone-dry vegetation and be pushed by hot, windy weather.

It's the first full closure of a national forest in Colorado since 2002 — another very dry year — and will remain in place until sufficient precipitation eases the fire danger.

The move comes as the residents of over 2,000 homes have been forced to evacuate because of a fire that started June 1 in the forest and has spread to about 35 square miles, or more than 22,000 acres.

New Mexico Health Exchange May Get Fifth ProviderAssociated Press

Families and individuals shopping for health insurance on New Mexico's federally subsidized exchange may have more companies to choose from next year.

The Office of the Superintendent of Insurance said Monday that five companies have applied to offer exchange plans for 2019, including four companies that currently participate.

Agency spokeswoman Heather Widler says an affiliate of Presbyterian Health Services has proposed new exchange offerings in a development that could benefit consumers.

Widler says Presbyterian currently participates in the insurance exchange for small businesses and provides off-exchange individual policies. The company last participated in the exchange in 2016.

About 50,000 people currently receive health insurance through the state's health exchange portal, known as beWellnm. Average premium increases set records this year.

Judge Limits Sanction For New Mexico Medical Pot ProducerAssociated Press

A state district judge has ruled that New Mexico health officials went beyond the scope of the law when they sanctioned a licensed medical marijuana producer for displaying a marijuana plant at the 2016 State Fair.

The Health Department initially ordered Ultra Health to close for five straight days during a period that included April 20, the busiest day of the year for cannabis sales.

Judge David Thomson in a recent order reduced the sanction to two days at some point over the next eight weeks.

The department has indicated it would appeal the ruling.

Ultra Health is planning to close one day in June and another in July. Employees will be doing community service during those two days, which will include picking up litter in Albuquerque and other areas.

Search Continues For Mistakenly Released Albuquerque InmateAssociated Press

Authorities continue to search for an Albuquerque jail inmate who was mistakenly released early.

Metropolitan Detention Center officials say 27-year-old Duwin Perez-Cordova was released Sunday and was last seen in downtown Albuquerque where he was dropped off.

Jail officials say they're investigating how the mistake happened, but it appears Perez-Cordova was aided by his cellmate who may have switched identification wristbands with him.

KOAT-TV reports the cellmate, Edwin Sanchez, is being charged with helping Cordova escape and conspiracy.

Perez-Cordova had been held at the jail since December on charges of attempting to commit a felony, shooting at or from a car, aggravated battery, car theft, drug trafficking, conspiracy and racketeering.

Perez-Cordova was also being held on a federal warrant.

Authorities say Perez-Cordova is considered violent and shouldn't be approached by the public.

New Mexico Considers New High School Diploma AlternativesAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

New Mexico education officials are considering a proposal that would change the path for students to use alternative methods to graduate if they fail to get high enough scores on competency tests.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the proposed rule would mandate that all public schools and charter schools follow detailed alternatives that would be verified by the state Public Education Department.

Under the rule, a student without the necessary scores would have to go through a new two-step process to meet competency requirements. Part of that process includes an internship or getting a minimum grade of 3.0 in an appropriate class.

State Public Education Secretary designate Christopher Ruszkowski says the rule boils down to rigorous standards, more emphasis on methods that have a track record of success and a focus on career and technology education.

Lawsuit Advances In Raid On New Mexico Youth ProgramAssociated Press

A federal judge says a lawsuit can move forward that was filed by owners of a ranch program for troubled youths in southern New Mexico against a State Police agent, in connection with a 2013 raid on suspicion of neglect and abuse.

Tierra Blanca Ranch owner Scott Chandler said Monday that his lawsuit has cleared a crucial challenge with the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Christina Armijo.

Chandler, wife Colette Chandler and a former participant in the youth program at Tierra Blanca allege that state police and social services staff violated their protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Chandlers say personnel led by agent Felipe Gonzales interviewed youths without a warrant or consent, and that their reputation and business suffered.

Armijo dismissed accusations of malicious prosecution.

New Mexico Feels The Heat As June Temperatures RiseAssociated Press

National weather forecasters have issued a heat advisory for parts of southern New Mexico, saying more triple-digit temperatures were expected across the region.

New Mexico is coming off of its third warmest May on record as climate predictions for June show greater than average chances that the state will see above average temperatures again this month.

In Las Cruces, officials on Monday closed Municipal Court early because of a lack of air conditioning. They reported that temperatures inside the building were between 85 and 90 degrees and were expected to rise as the day progressed.

All hearings set for the afternoon were being rescheduled.

Remains Of WWII Gunner To Be Returned To New MexicoSanta Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

The remains of a young gunner from New Mexico who was killed during World War II will soon be brought home to be reburied at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

The U.S. Department of Defense recently notified the family of Sgt. Alfonso Duran that his remains had been identified.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Duran disappeared over Europe in 1944. He was part of a crew manning a B-24H Liberator that was en route to a bombing run in Germany when it was shot down. Duran was the only one who didn't bail out.

Duran's niece, Patricia Duran, said it wasn't until a Slovenian journalist and then-U.S. Congressman Christopher Van Hollen Jr. of Maryland stepped in that it was learned Duran was buried in what is now Slovenia.

Officials Say Jury Duty Scam Tries To Collect For False FinesAssociated Press

New Mexico court officials are issuing a warning about scammers who are telling people to pay them money in order to avoid arrest.

The Administrative Office of the Courts says the scammers are calling New Mexicans and telling them they must pay up after failing to report for jury duty.

Officials say a man in Las Cruces was falsely told to deliver two payment totaling $1,000 to a kiosk in order to avoid arrest.

Artie Pepin, the office's director, says New Mexico court do not demand money from people who do not appear for jury service.

Administrators urge anyone who receives one of the phone calls to report it to law enforcement.

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