Prosecutors in Alec Baldwin ‘Rust’ shooting case are getting heat over apparent missteps

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  • Lawyers for Alec Baldwin say Special Prosecutor Andrea Reeb is not allowed by the New Mexico constitution to hear a shooting on the set of Rust.
  • Rib is already under scrutiny for the way she and her office handled the case, both in court and in the media.
  • Prosecutors have already admitted that they mistakenly charged Baldwin and Rust gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reid with the death of cameraman Galina Hutchins.

It’s been just over a month since Alec Baldwin was charged with manslaughter by New Mexico authorities for the fatal murder of a crew member on the set of Rust, and the charge has already come under heavy scrutiny and scrutiny.

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First, there is the question of whether the chief prosecutor has the right to hear the case at all. States the constitution forbids a member of one branch of government from exercising the powers of another branch. Andrea Rib, special prosecutor, is also a state legislator from the Republican Party. Baldwin’s lawyers applied on February 7 remove Reeb from the case.

The Attorney’s Office for the First Judicial District of Riba and New Mexico denied this motion for disqualification, calling the defense’s argument “misleading” and stating that it “is based on a new theory that has no support in New Mexico law or case law.” The documents were filed on Monday.

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“Adopting the defendant’s theory would require the court to create a new law with statewide implications based on nothing more than a creative, legally unsupported argument,” prosecutors wrote in the court document.

Legal experts also criticized Reeb’s inflated charges against Baldwin based on a law that did not apply at the time of the fatal shooting. She backed down and lowered the charges, which could result in a shorter prison sentence for Baldwin if he is convicted.

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Lawyers also found incendiary press statements and media appearances the DA’s office is strange, as prosecutors are usually advised to save their comments for the courtroom.

“From the very beginning, there were some unusual facts about the prosecution of the district attorney,” said John Day, a Santa Fe attorney who has been practicing law in New Mexico since 1996.

The allegations relate to the October 2021 death of cinematographer Galina Hutchins while filming the independent film Rust. Baldwin, who also starred in The Departed and Beetlejuice, held a gun loaded with live ammunition.

Baldwin, who also produces Rust, and the film’s gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Read were indicted in January for two different types of manslaughter by New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Oltvis. A jury can legally convict them on only one of these counts, the maximum penalty for each of which is 18 months in prison.

David Halls, the film’s first assistant director, signed an agreement to be prosecuted for negligent use of a lethal weapon and receive a suspended sentence and six months’ probation.

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are due to appear virtually at Thursday’s status hearing.

Special Prosecutor

In August, Carmack-Oltwis appointed Reeb as special prosecutor. Reeb was formerly Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit., but retired a year ago, shortly after starting her legislative campaign. She won the race in November but remained in the Rust case.

Reeb’s dual role as legislator and prosecutor caused bewilderment in the local legal community. George Heidke, a former attorney at the First Trial District Attorney’s Office, told CNBC that for the first time in 25 years of practicing law in New Mexico, he has seen an incumbent legislator double as a prosecutor.

Baldwin’s lawyers argue that Reeb should be removed from the case. “The prosecutor, who is also a legislator, may face pressure to make prosecutorial decisions that serve her legislative interests,” Baldwin’s lawyers wrote in the petition. Baldwin is an outspoken supporter of Democratic and progressive issues, making him a target for fellow Republican Riba.

The DA’s office responded to that argument on Monday, saying such claims are “purely hypothetical and demonstrate which limb the defendant would have to climb to claim some sort of ‘treatment or tampering’.”

There are other difficulties as well.

“I think everyone agrees that she is inappropriately in two different branches of government at the same time,” Lisa Torraco, a New Mexico attorney representing Hall, told CNBC. “That’s a good reason: I donate to her campaign as a legislator, and now she’s the special prosecutor on my case.”

In September, Torraco donated $250 to Reeb’s campaign, suggesting that if Reeb won the legislative race, she would automatically drop out of the Rust case. That did not happen.

“If I had known, I probably wouldn’t have given her the money,” Torraco said.

Along with Torraco, Carmack-Oltvis, a registered Democrat, and Dennis Maez, the Halls’ private investigator, also contributed to Reeb’s campaign.

Torraco said there was no connection between her small campaign donation and Halls’ plea deal. But, according to Santa Fe lawyer Day, “appearance matters.”

“If you donate money to legislators, you have to understand that people will have access to it and will wonder: “What is going on here?” – he said. “That’s why you don’t want to … have a legislator who also acts as a prosecutor.”

Heather Brewer, a district attorney hired specifically for the Rust case, confirmed Torraco’s donation. She added that “Rib’s integrity can never be compromised by a $250 contribution or a contribution of any amount. Her sole purpose is to serve the community honestly and she will continue to do so while seeking justice for Halina Hutchins.”

Lawyers for Gutierrez-Rid signed Baldwin’s motion to disqualify Reeb. The district attorney’s office declined to comment on the petition before filing its own response.

“Freshman Law School Mistake”

Aside from Reeb’s role in the legislature, local lawyers found it strange that Carmack-Oltwis had appointed a special prosecutor at all. Historically, if the DA’s office did not have the resources to handle a case, it turned to the state attorney general for help.

Instead, Carmack-Oltwis requested $635,000 from the New Mexico Financial Council, saying her office needed additional attorney, a media contact and other staff specifically dedicated to the Rust case, according to a letter she sent to the Financial Council 8 August. thirty.

When Carmack-Oltwis was asked by a member of the finance board if she had approached the attorney general for help, she said that, according to the transcript of the hearing on her funding request, she “did not apply specifically for this case.” According to Carmack-Oltwis, Reeb was the best option because she has “over 25 years of experience, and this will be her only case for the next 12 to 18 months, which is by design.”

The state provided the DA’s office with $317,750, about half of the original request.

Torraco said the charges brought against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are among the smallest felony offenses in New Mexico.

“And they are asking the legislature for hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecute? It’s just absurd,” Torraco said. “They go after felonies in the fourth degree every single day… why all the fuss?”

The legal risk Baldwin faced was much higher until last month, when his lawyers challenged another prosecution decision.

When Reeb first filed criminal charges, she included a so-called gun improvement charge, which carries a five-year prison sentence. Baldwin’s lawyers on February 10 filed a motion to remove the improvement because it became law seven months after the fatal shooting occurred, violating a legal concept known as “ex post” or ex post.

It was “a law school freshman’s mistake,” Day said. “If you are a prosecutor, you have an obligation to make sure that you are accusing the right law. And it’s embarrassing because it shows they don’t pay attention to details.”

Reeb, in a February 12 email to Baldwin’s lawyers, pointed out her legislative obligations after they raised their objections to the improvement. She wrote that she had “been busy in session all week” and that now she could only take a closer look at the features of firearm upgrades.

Shortly after, Reeb admitted that she misapplied the enhancement and threw it out of the case.

media circus

The case received considerable media attention, which is sustained by Baldwin and press reports by the prosecutor’s office. Baldwin was interviewed by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in December 2021. Carmack-Oltvis and Reeb, in turn, appeared on CNN And Fox News.

In addition, Brewer, a spokesman specially hired for the Rust case, made several vehement statements about Baldwin and his lawyers on behalf of the district attorney’s office.

After a Feb. 10 motion to reduce firearm enhancements, Brewer told CNBC that the district attorney’s office is meant to hold everyone, “even celebrities with fancy lawyers,” accountable under the law. Nearly two weeks later, when Reeb withdrew from the improvement, Brewer said in a statement that the charges were dropped “in order to avoid further litigation by Mr. Baldwin and his lawyers.”

“The prosecution’s priority is to ensure fairness, not to provide paid hours for city attorneys,” Brewer added.

Brewer also suggested that Baldwin’s attempts to remove Reeb from the case were intended to divert attention from Baldwin’s alleged criminal behavior. “Mr. Baldwin and his lawyers can use any tactic to divert attention from the fact that Halina Hutchins died due to gross negligence and reckless disregard for safety on the set of Rust,” Brewer said in a public statement.

American Bar Association advises against lawyers making public statements that could harm a jury in a criminal case, especially as far as the “character” or “reputation” of the defendants is concerned.

“Prosecutors have to walk a very fine line between what you can say in public,” said Day, a local lawyer. “You don’t want to be accused of poisoning a jury ahead of time. And that can certainly be a problem here.”

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