Prosecutor Steps Down In APD Shooting Case, EPA Says It Can't Pay Damages From Mine Spill

Jan 13, 2017

Special Prosecutor Steps Down In Albuquerque Shooting Case – The Associated Press

Metro Albuquerque's new district attorney will decide if two former Albuquerque police officers should be retried in connection to the shooting death of a mentally ill homeless man after the special prosecutor handling the case stepped down.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was appointed as prosecutor in the murder trial against Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez at a hearing Thursday. Special prosecutor Randi McGinn withdrew from the case at that time.

Sandy and Perez were charged with murder in the death of James Boyd in 2014. A murder trial against the two ended with a hung jury last year.

Torrez says a team of prosecutors is reviewing the case and they are expected to make a recommendation regarding a mistrial by the end of January.

EPA Says It Can't Pay Damages From Mine SpillThe Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency won't repay claims totaling over $1.2 billion for economic damages from a mine waste spill the agency accidentally triggered in Colorado, saying the law prohibits it.

The EPA said Friday the claims could be refiled in federal court, or Congress could authorize payments.

But government attorneys concluded the EPA is barred from paying the claims because of sovereign immunity, which prohibits most lawsuits against the government.

An official announcement is planned later Friday. The Associated Press was provided outlines of the decision in advance.

The 2015 spill released 3 million gallons of wastewater into Colorado, New Mexico and Utah rivers.

Those filing claims included farmers, rafting companies and their employees who lost income and wages while the rivers were unusable for irrigation, livestock and recreation.

Budget Cuts Prompt More Court Clerks To Limit HoursThe Associated Press

Another of New Mexico's judicial districts will be reducing the hours its court clerks have to help the public due to budget cuts and resulting staff shortages.

Officials in the 12th district, representing Otero and Lincoln counties in southern New Mexico, made the announcement Friday. They join New Mexico's busiest district in metro Albuquerque in trimming public hours within the clerk's offices.

Beginning next week, clerks will be available to assist the public for only four hours each day.

In a statement issued Friday, 12th District Chief Judge James Counts said the court apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause and warned that the new schedule will last at least through August.

In Albuquerque, court officials say they have 23 vacancies and employees are scrambling to address heavier workloads.

Ex-Mora School Chief To Stand Trial For Fake CredentialsThe Associated Press & The Las Vegas Optic

A former northern New Mexico superintendent who resigned in disgrace over allegations of faking credentials is headed to court for criminal charges.

The Las Vegas Optic reports that a San Miguel County Magistrate Judge on Tuesday ruled that sufficient evidence exists to bind Charles Trujillo over to District Court for one of three criminal cases against him. Preliminary hearings in the other cases are scheduled for next week.

Trujillo is facing fraud and forgery charges connected to his Mora position. In the San Miguel County case considered Tuesday, Trujillo is charged with four counts of forgery, all second-degree felonies, one count of second-degree fraud, and three petty misdemeanor counts of fraud.

Santa Fe City Leaders Vote Down Anti-Trump MessageThe Associated Press & The New Mexican

The Santa Fe City Council has voted down a resolution that would have taken a direct shot at President-elect Donald Trump and his policies.

The New Mexican reports that the resolution states that Trump "espouses beliefs that are contrary to and undermine our community values." The measure died on a tie vote Wednesday night, even after direct references to the incoming Republican president were removed.

Mayor Javier Gonzales and Councilors Carmichael Dominguez, Joseph Maestas and Renee Villarreal were in favor of the resolution, but Councilors Mike Harris, Peter Ives, Chris Rivera and Ron Trujillo opposed it. Councilor Signe Lindell abstained.

Lindell said the resolution seemed to be "kicking the hornets' nest some." She suggested that people instead affirm their values by taking action to make a difference.

Medicaid Spending Burden Drops In New MexicoThe Associated Press

New Mexico officials say Medicaid health care for the poor and disabled will be less costly than previously expected this fiscal year and next year, easing financial pressures amid a state budget crisis.

New Mexico Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest told lawmakers Friday that state cost overruns no longer are expected during the current fiscal year. He said state general fund spending on Medicaid is expected to increase by $42 million next year to $956 million — a smaller increase than previously expected.

Enrollment in the state's managed care program for Medicaid continues to grow at an annual rate of about 8 percent, but per-patient costs have fallen slightly with less reliance on emergency rooms and hospitals and more care through appointments with physicians and nurses.

New Mexico Gov Calls For Legislative Meetings to be Archived The Associated Press

Gov. Susana Martinez says state government, specifically the dealings of lawmakers, should be more transparent.

The Republican governor made the comment during a business luncheon in Albuquerque on Thursday.

She called for all legislative hearings to be archived so that New Mexicans know what decisions are being made "in the wee hours of the night," referencing the flurry of votes that are often cast during committee meetings in the final days of the legislative session.

New Mexico already offers webcasting of committee hearings. It's unclear how much it would cost to maintain such an archive.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than half of states archive and make available online floor proceedings and about half archive some or all committee proceedings for varying lengths of time.

New Mexico Attorney General Sues Troubled School District The Associated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has filed a lawsuit against a troubled northern New Mexico school district whose finances were recently taken over by the state.

The lawsuit against the Espanola Public Schools District filed in Rio Arriba State District Court on Thursday seeks to force the district to comply with an open records request for emails. Court documents say the attorney general only received less than 1 percent of the requested documents.

Superintendent Eric Martinez didn't immediately respond to an email.

The state Public Education Department took over the finances of the Espanola school district in November after finding some budget irregularities.

The department also warned Martinez to fix other problems, including the high-profile rehiring of the high school's basketball coach, who was accused of verbally abusing players.

Lawsuit Faults Bureau of Indian Education Schools – The Associated Press

A new federal lawsuit says U.S. Bureau of Indian Education schools are chronically understaffed, lack systems to provide special education and have a deficient curriculum.

Advocacy groups said Thursday the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Havasupai students at an Arizona school within the Grand Canyon. Lawyers say the lawsuit potentially could impact other BIE schools.

The 95-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix faults the federal government for physically excluding Havasupai students with special needs and only teaching math and writing to students.

Alexis DeLaCruz, an attorney for the Native American Disability Law Center, says similar problems exist at many Bureau of Indian Education schools.

The U.S. Department of Interior did not immediately respond to an email from The Associated Press.

The bureau oversees 183 schools in 23 states, including nearly four dozen in New Mexico.

New Mexico Governor Sets State's Fiscal Solvency As PriorityThe Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is warning that before anything reaches her desk during the upcoming legislative session, she wants lawmakers to come up with a "serious solvency package."

The Republican governor made the comment Thursday while addressing business leaders in Albuquerque. She's referring to projections that the state is expected to outspend revenues by nearly $220 million this fiscal year.

Martinez and lawmakers rolled out dueling budget proposals earlier this week.

Despite opposition from Democrats, part of her plan calls for sweeping some money from school district reserves.

She argues that districts are sitting on more than $130 million in such funds and in some cases that's far beyond the 5 percent recommended for hard times. She says the surpluses can be tapped to avoid classroom and program cuts.

Whooping Cough Cases in Infants Increase in New Mexico The Associated Press

New Mexico health officials say the number of cases of whooping cough in infants has increased.

The Health Department is investigating four infant cases reported in December. The cases are from Eddy, Curry, Rio Arriba and San Juan counties.

The agency says this is the largest cluster of whooping cough cases investigated by the state since August 2013.

Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher says the best way for parents to protect against the illness is to get their children vaccinated. She also encourages women to get vaccinated during pregnancy.

Symptoms of infection may include coughing fits. In infants, another possible symptom is apnea, where there is a pause in the child's breathing pattern.

About half of babies younger than one year of age who get the disease are hospitalized.

LANL Contractor Earns DOE Bonus For Environmental Management – The Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican 

Los Alamos National Security has received a $9.1 million bonus for reaching environmental goals in its operation of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The New Mexican reports that the U.S. Energy Department says the contractor excelled in a number of projects to remediate areas of environmental concern during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The company earned 90 percent of the maximum $10.1 million award.

Decades of improper waste disposal have caused toxic and radiological contamination at the lab and are expected to cost nearly $4 billion to clean up over the next 25 years. The Department of Energy says in a report that the lab has made progress addressing an underground chemical plume that is creeping toward a major aquifer and in cleanup at Technical Area 21.

New Avalanche Center Formed in Northern New Mexico The Associated Press, KOB-TV

A new avalanche center in northern New Mexico hopes to aid the state with avalanche warnings in the region.

KOB-TV in Albuquerque reports the new Taos Avalanche Center is joining forces with the U.S. Forest Service and National Weather Service to issue avalanche warnings in the state for the first time.

Shawn Bennett, the National Weather Service Meteorologist-in-Charge in Albuquerque, says it's a much-needed collaborative effort.

When storms drop layers of heavy snow, officials say it can eventually become unstable like a house of cards. Some avalanches can be triggered by skiers in high-risk areas.

Avalanches cause around 30 deaths per winter.