States Sue Over Trump Coal Lease Decision, Mexico Border Arrests Down Again

May 9, 2017

States Sue Over Trump Decision To Restart Coal Lease Program - Associated Press

California, New Mexico, New York and Washington are suing over the Trump administration's decision to restart the sale of coal leases on federal lands.

The attorneys general of the four states filed their lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Montana.

They say that the U.S. Interior Department's reversal of the Obama administration's moratorium on the federal coal leasing program was done without a review on whether it would be good for the environment or for taxpayers.

The Obama administration blocked the program in 2016 to study whether coal companies that lease federal lands should pay higher royalties and whether the program was contributing to climate change by subsidizing coal development.

President Donald Trump lifted the moratorium by executive order in March as part of his promise to revitalize the slumping coal industry.

Physicist Joins Race For Open Congress Seat In New Mexico – The Associated Press, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Another Democrat is jumping into the race for an open congressional seat in central New Mexico.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports physicist Dennis Dinge announced he is running for the state's First Congressional District. The district covers the Albuquerque and east mountains area.

Former Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland, Albuquerque City Council member Pat Davis and law professor Antoinette Sedillo also have announced their intentions to seek the seat.

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, an Albuquerque Democrat is stepping down to run for New Mexico governor. The open congressional race is expected to draw a number of candidates.

Dinge, who has worked at Sandia National Laboratories, became a New Mexico resident in 2006.

The South Carolina-raised scientist earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of North Carolina.

US Reports Another Drop In Arrests At Mexico Border – The Associated Press

Arrests of people caught trying to enter the United States from Mexico without authorization declined again last month, a likely sign that fewer would-be immigrants are trying to cross the border illegally.

President Donald Trump has highlighted the falling numbers as a sign that his tough approach on immigration is working. Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric and more aggressive enforcement of immigration laws may be discouraging people from crossing illegally.

The Homeland Security Department reported border patrol arrests fell to 11,129 in April, compared with 12,196 in March. That's the lowest level in more than 17 years.

Arrests at the border plummeted soon after Trump took office. The relatively modest difference between the March and April figures suggest that the decreases may be leveling off.

Defendants To Get Separate Trials In New Mexico Girl's Death – The Associated Press

A judge has ruled that three defendants charged in last year's death of a young New Mexico girl will be tried separately.

Authorities say Victoria Martens was strangled to death on her 10th birthday last August before being dismembered and her remains set on fire.

The girl's mother, the mother's boyfriend and the boyfriend's cousin each are charged jointly in the rape and murder case.

Albuquerque police say the three suspects drugged, raped, killed and dismembered the child in an apartment.

Police found the girl's body in a bathtub, wrapped in a smoldering blanket.

A District Court judge ruled Tuesday that each trial will be held in Bernalillo County.

Defense attorneys had requested that the trials be moved to another county because of intense media coverage of the high-profile case.

Portales Man Enters Plea Agreement In 2015 Murder Case – The Associated Press

A man accused in the 2015 death of another Portales resident who was held captive, burned and beaten has agreed to a plea deal.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that 40-year-old David Smith has agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping.

They say Smith will be sentenced to 15 years in prison, but serve 12 ½ years with the remainder on supervised probation.

A hearing is scheduled Friday.

Smith was indicted in December 2015 on first-degree murder and other charges.

William Vaughn went to Smith's home in November 2015 and the men allegedly argued.

Authorities say the 45-year-old Vaughn was severely beaten and held in a locked room for 24 hours.

Vaughn reportedly suffered a traumatic brain injury and had burns and severe bruising over most of his body.

New Mexico's Case Against Nursing Home Chain Advances – The Associated Press

Dozens of witnesses are preparing to testify in New Mexico’s lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest nursing home chains.

The case against Texas-based Preferred Care Partners Management Group will move forward after a state district judge denied a request last week by one of the defendants for a stay.

Attorney General Hector Balderas accuses the defendants of using their motions to divert attention from allegations that thin staffing at nursing homes across the state made it impossible to provide good care.

He says many patients suffered as a result and some died.

Lawyers for Preferred Care Partners Management Group have denied the claims, saying the case is one of opportunism.

The case is scheduled for trial next year.

Santa Fe University Begins Its Layoffs, 176 Students To Stay – The Associated Press, The Santa Fe New Mexican

The Santa Fe University of Art and Design has laid off 15 staff workers as it prepares to close.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Monday that more cuts are expected in the coming weeks. The university will shut down in spring 2018.

A university spokeswoman says 176 juniors, 79 percent of the class, will return next year to be the university's final graduating students.

The college's leaders had announced in April they were shutting down the school because of declining enrollment, financial challenges and a failed plan to sell the business to the Singapore-based Raffles Education.

Santa Fe bought the College of Santa Fe campus for about $20 million in 2010 and leased most of it to a Laureate-affiliated group called Santa Fe Higher Education LLC.

Ex-Espanola Coach Settles With State, Leaves District – The Associated Press, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A former high school basketball coach has agreed to resign from a job at his northern New Mexico school district and surrender his coaching license.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports former Espanola Valley High School coach Richard Martinez agreed to step down under a settlement with the state Public Education Department.

Martinez was a long-time boys' basketball coach who led the school to two state titles but was accused of abusing the power that success brought him. He is facing a lawsuit by parents who accuse him of bullying and intimidating players, other students, staff members and parents.

Martinez says he agreed to the settlement to bring closure.

A previous Espanola superintendent fired Martinez in April and then resigned when the school board didn't support the termination.

New Mexico AG Seeks Meeting With Feds Over Monument ReviewAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas wants to meet with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as federal officials review more than two dozen national monuments to determine if they were properly established.

The New Mexico Democrat said in a letter sent Monday to Zinke that residents of the state are proud of their natural and cultural heritage and that designated monuments help protect sites that date back centuries.

Balderas also argued that monuments can serve as economic engines for rural communities.

The monuments to be reviewed include the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico and Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in the northern part of the state.

Both encompass hundreds of square miles and were created during former President Barack Obama's tenure.

Ex-CIA Operative, Author Puts New Mexico Home On The MarketAssociated Press

Former CIA operative, author and activist Valerie Plame Wilson is selling her home in New Mexico.

Sotheby's International Realty has the gated compound on the market for $2.1 million. It's in an affluent neighborhood on the northeast side of Santa Fe.

County records show the property is owned by Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, a former ambassador. They have lived in Santa Fe for about a decade.

In 2003, Plame was exposed as a CIA operative by officials of the George W. Bush administration in an effort to discredit her husband, who had criticized the decision to invade Iraq.

Plame's memoir was a best-seller. She is a consultant to the Santa Fe Institute, a member of the Global Zero Leadership board and is co-author of a series of espionage novels.

Jurors Hearing Opening Statements In Trial Of Former Deputy – The Associated Press, The Albuquerque Journal

A jury in Las Cruces has heard opening statements in the retrial of a former Santa Fe County sheriff's deputy charged with murder in the 2014 shooting death of a fellow deputy.

Tai Chan's first trial in the killing of Jeremy Martin ended last year in a mistrial when jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision.

Authorities have said the shooting at a hotel while the deputies were on a work trip stemmed from an alcohol-fueled argument.

Prosecutors have noted that Martin was shot in the back, and the Albuquerque Journal reports that District Attorney Mark D'Antonio told jurors Tuesday that Martin was the victim.

Defense attorney Tom Clark said it's a case of self-defense with one man defending himself against the other "in a life or death struggle."

Sick Leave Advocates Lose Latest Legal Round Albuquerque Journal

The state Court of Appeals will not take up a proposed paid sick leave ordinance in Albuquerque before a District Court rules on the case.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the ordinance would require employers in New Mexico’s largest city to provide paid sick leave to employees. Opponents argue it would hurt business owners.

Advocates including Healthy Workforce of ABQ, the OLE Education Fund and others were appealing a decision by District Judge Alan Malott that the entire lengthy ordinance must appear on the Oct. 3 ballot. They worry having all seven pages of the ordinance on the ballot rather than a summary will cause it to fail.

Attorney Pat Rogers praised the decision upholding Malott’s ruling. He’s representing several intervenors in the case. He has also filed suit against the city on behalf of industry groups to prevent the ordinance from even going on the ballot.

Efforts To Stop School-Lunch Shaming Move To CongressAssociated Press

Federal legislation has been introduced by Democratic lawmakers from New Mexico to ensure schools do not stigmatize or cast shame on children as attempts are made to collect lunch debts from parents.

Companion House and Senate bills were introduced Monday that would prohibit schools from singling out children because their parents have not paid school meal bills.

The proposed legislation is sponsored by Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham. It mirrors a New Mexico state law adopted this year that cracks down on "lunch shaming" and outlines application procedures to ensure federally subsidized lunches reach eligible children.

The New Mexico-based nonprofit Appleseed developed the original state legislation to help ensure students can eat adequately and avoid any public embarrassment.

Fire In Gila National Forest Near Reserve GrowsAssociated Press

Firefighters in southwestern New Mexico are battling a wildfire in the Gila National Forest.

The U.S. Forest Service said Monday the Kerr Fire has grown to 4.4 square miles (11.4 square kilometers) and is now 17 miles (27 kilometers) northeast of the village of Reserve, New Mexico.

Officials say lightning sparked the blaze on May 1.

The National Weather Service says the area is expected to see gusty winds and more lightning on Monday, hindering efforts to battle the blaze.

The fire is 17 percent contained.

Border Patrol Agent's Trial In Mexican Killing DelayedAssociated Press

The second-degree murder trial of a U.S. Border Patrol agent accused of fatally shooting a Mexican teen on the other side of the international border has been delayed again.

The trial of Lonnie Swartz has seen at least six delays since the agent in the Tucson Sector was charged in September 2015.

The latest June 19 trial date was moved to Oct. 12.

Swartz is accused of firing through the border fence from Nogales, Arizona, into Nogales, Sonora, and striking 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez about 10 times. He said Elena Rodriguez threw rocks at him, endangering his life.

The boy's family says that's not true.

Swartz, who is on leave, is also facing a civil rights lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of the boy's mother.

Senate Confirms Trump's Pick For Air Force Secretary - By Richard Lardner, Associated Press

The Senate has confirmed Heather Wilson as secretary of the Air Force.

Senators approved Wilson's nomination 76-22, making her President Donald Trump's first service secretary nominee to be approved by the GOP-led chamber.

Trump's choices for secretaries of the Army and Navy have been forced to withdraw from consideration.

Trump's second choice for Army secretary, Mark Green, stepped aside late last week amid growing criticism over his remarks about Muslims, and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.

Wilson is a former Republican congresswoman from New Mexico. She had faced scrutiny from several Democrats for defense industry consulting work she did after leaving Congress in 2009.

She is the first graduate of the Air Force Academy to hold the service's top civilian post.

Eddy County Air Ambulance Service Remains Privately OperatedCurrent-Argus, Associated Press

New Mexico rescue flights out of Eddy County will remain privately operated after officials rejected contract proposals for a county-owned air ambulance service.

The Current-Argus reports Chair Stella Davis says commissioners might reconsider the proposal once the county has a solid idea of its finances.

Davis had said at the time of the special meeting last week that a special state legislative session could result in more cuts and unfunded mandates. She says it would be best to address the rescue flights after the state's session.

Records show the helicopters would have cost the county $135,000 each per month, totaling in about $5 million per year.

Commissioner James Walterscheid says the county also lacks a contract with local hospitals to ensure they would utilize the county's air ambulances.