Morning Word

DA Appoints New Special Prosecutors, Withdraws from “Rust” Case

State officials issue warning as wildfire season begins

DA withdraws from Rust prosecution

First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced yesterday she has appointed new special prosecutors for the Rust case: Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis, whose “extensive experience and trial expertise will allow the state to pursue justice for Halyna Hutchins and ensure that in New Mexico everyone is held accountable under the law,” a news release from the DA’s office says. Carmack-Altwies “will step aside from personally prosecuting the Rust case, allowing her to focus on the broader public safety needs in New Mexico’s First Judicial District,” a statement from office spokesperson Heather Brewer says. The DA and previous special prosecutor Clovis Republican state Rep. Andrea Reeb have charged Rust actor/producer Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the Oct. 21 fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Assistant Director David Halls has a pending plea agreement on charges of negligent use of a weapon. Following Reeb’s withdrawal as special prosecutor earlier this month, which followed Baldwin’s lawyers’ legal objections to her serving in the role, Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyers raised legal objections to Carmack-Altwies appointing a new special prosecutor while continuing to also participate in the case. At a hearing earlier this week, First Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommers had indicated she agreed with those objections, but gave Carmack-Altwies until end of business today to file additional legal arguments about why she should be allowed to do both, and a hearing—now canceled—had been scheduled for Friday on the issue. “My responsibility to the people of the First Judicial District is greater than any one case, which is why I have chosen to appoint a special prosecutor in the ‘Rust’ case,” Carmack-Altwies said in a provided statement. “Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis will unflinchingly pursue justice in the death of Halyna Hutchins on behalf of the people of First Judicial District.”

NM, AZ officials issue fire season warnings

One week ahead of the one-year anniversary of the start of last year’s devastating Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other officials yesterday issued warnings about the ongoing wildfire risk for New Mexico. Portions of the state, including Santa Fe, are under a red flag warning today due to forecasted high winds. “We are at extreme risk,” the governor said to a group at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque, given the state’s landscape and extreme drought. Officials said New Mexico has already had more than 100 fires start this year, and officials from Arizona reported dozens of human-caused fires in their state as well. And while New Mexico State Forester Laura McCarthy said she didn’t want to predict this season’s potential fire weather, she noted that: “If we’re learning anything from last year, it’s that the past is not really a good indicator of what’s coming in the future. And I think that if we get two, three or four weeks of really hot, dry weather with winds, we’re right back in it.”

Santa Fe ranks third among NM counties for health

Santa Fe ranks third among New Mexico counties for its health outcomes, according to new and annual data from the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a program of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The county rankings evaluate a plethora of data points, including social and economic factors; health behaviors; and qualify of life metrics. Los Alamos and Sandoval counties ranked first and second, respectively; Rio Arriba and McKinley counties were at the bottom (with no data made available for Harding county). A news release discussing the 2023 findings noted that this year’s data shows that “communities that offer places for their residents to gather and that encourage voting and participation in civic life also experience better health, higher high school completion rates, higher household incomes and less income inequality,” with residents in such communities also tending to live longer. “Our findings reveal that people and places thrive when all residents have the chance to participate in their communities,” Sheri Johnson, principal investigator of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and director of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, said in a statement. “History shows that we can remake systems and structures through civic participation that are beneficial to all.”

Council backpedals proposed campaign law rewrite

At their meeting last night, Santa Fe city councilors and Mayor Alan Webber walked back proposed changes to the city’s campaign finance laws in response to concerns raised earlier this month by the city’s Ethics and Campaign Review Board. City Clerk Kristine Bustos-Mihelcic backed the 49-page election code rewrite, which she said would simplify campaign rules and more closely align with state law. Among other provisions, the proposed changes would have altered existing law to only require campaign groups disclose money spent on advertising, not other activities, and would have cut back the city’s rules on contributions and other expenditures. Bill sponsor District 2 Councilor Carol Romero-Wirth instead acknowledged the ethics board’s concerns and introduced an amendment to undo those proposed changes, for instance, maintaining the original definitions for “contributions,” “coordinated expenditure” and “independent expenditures.” Romero-Wirth noted the ethics board “in some cases…felt like the wording that was suggested in terms of aligning with state law was too narrow and didn’t take into account all the work they had done in thinking about the different possibilities that might arise and should be covered by the definitions.” The council also gave final approval in an unanimous vote to a bill that amends city code to allow councilors—if funds were allocated—to hire staff.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported March 29: New cases: 233; 674,673 total cases. Deaths: two; Santa Fe County has had 401 total deaths; 9,106 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 94; patients on ventilators: nine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent March 23 “community levels” map shows DeBaca County has turned red, indicating high COVID-19 community levels (categories that weigh both hospital and case metrics). The CDC recommends people living in red counties take a number of precautions, including wearing masks. The current map also shows four counties (twice as many as last week) are now yellow, with medium levels: Cibola, Quay, Curry and Roosevelt counties. The rest of the state remains at green—aka low—levels. Corresponding recommendations for each level can be found here.

Resources: Receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests per household via; Check availability for additional free COVID-19 tests through Project ACT; CDC interactive booster eligibility tool; NM DOH vaccine & booster registration; CDC isolation and exposure interactive tool; COVID-19 treatment info; NMDOH immunocompromised tool kit. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453. DOH encourages residents to download the NM Notify app and to report positive COVID-19 home tests on the app.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

While you can’t yet binge watch the New Mexico Early Childhood Education & Care Department ‘s online series, The Early Show with Alax, the third episode has just dropped. In episode three, “Growing,” Alax—played by Santa Fe’s favorite puppeteer Devon Ludlow—sits down with Hailey, a mother of two and childcare researcher, to discuss helping children in their formative growth years. The episode also features Camila and Isa, a New Mexico mom and daughter, and Mi’raj, a FIT provider. With a theme song by Santa Fe musician Jessie Deluxe (who had a starring role in Ludlow’s award-winning zombie puppet musical) and high production values courtesy MediaDesk and Film Nest Studios, the show is not just informative for people with a vested interest in small children—it’s actually really fun, regardless.

Art philanthropist Landau dies at 102

A towering New York arts philanthropist with ties to New Mexico has died: Emily Fisher Landau, who pledged in 2010 her $50 to $75 million collection to the Whitney Museum of American Art, died earlier this week at the age of 102. Whitney Chairman Emeritus Leonard Lauder, in Landau’s New York Times obituary, described her as “one of the most important trustees” in the museum’s history, helping to establish the endowment for its biennial exhibitions. She also played significant roles in Santa Fe’s art scene, serving on both SITE Santa Fe and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s boards. SITE’s Phillips Executive Director Louis Grachos, who rejoined SITE in 2021 after serving as its director from 1996 to 2003, tells SFR Landau played a pivotal role supporting SITE in its early days, both with her enthusiasm for growing SITE’s biennial, and in her “generous and enthusiastic” support as a trustee in helping the museum raise funds to purchase its building. “The other things that were so empowering and energizing for us at SITE Santa Fe was her plain enthusiasm for all the good things that were happening in New Mexico when she lived here,” Grachos said. Landau’s former home, known as Saddleback Ranch, was sold at auction in 2020. “She was an incredibly important and generous supporter in the early days of SITE Santa Fe that allowed us to establish the organization,” Grachos noted. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Director Cody Hartley, in a statement provided to SFR, also noted Landau’s generosity with the O’Keeffe. “Emily was a friend and advocate of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum from our founding,” Hartley said. “She understood and cared deeply about Georgia O’Keeffe’s legacy and was crucial in the ambitious launch of our Research Center, a resource dedicated to the study of O’Keeffe and American Modernism. Emily’s generosity and support helped the Museum become an innovative leader, recognized nationally and internationally for the caliber of its scholarship and exhibitions.”

Slithering along

If spring seems like an optimum time to stake out national parks for recreational purposes, beware of snakes—at least in New Mexico. That’s one quick takeaway from Outside magazine’s look at the “nine most dangerous animals in our national parks,” which we skimmed nervously before reading thoroughly to suss out New Mexico critters. Is a rattlesnake a critter? If so, it’s not a cuddly one. With more than 20 species found across the US, rattlesnakes live in most states and, here, the very lethal Mojave rattlesnake can be found at Carlsbad Caverns National Park “and other New Mexico parks.” For what it’s worth, the National Park Service reports more lizards than rattlesnakes among the more than 45 reptiles at Carlsbad Caverns. The story also includes a photo of a prairie rattlesnake coiled to strike at White Sands. Also: April kicks off snake season. On the bright side, we do not have sharks, alligators, polar bears or jelly fish (we do, of course, have plenty of large predators, even if they aren’t specifically living inside national parks). Speaking of national parks close to home, Bandelier National Monument (refuge to lots of birds, squirrels, Mule deer and lizards), is taking public comment through April 24 on proposed fee increases for individual campsites at Juniper Campground and group campsites at Juniper Campground and Ponderosa Campground.

Wind up

Santa Fe is under both a wind advisory and red flag warning today, according to the National Weather Service, which forecasts sunny skies with a high near 59 degrees and southeast winds 10 to 20 mph becoming southwest 25 to 35 mph, with gusts potentially reaching 50 mph. Tonight could bring scattered snow showers after 3 am and more gusting winds, with temperatures dropping back into the 40s tomorrow.

Thanks for reading! Yes, The Word is listening to Lana Del Rey’s new album, but is unlikely to listen to it 17 times in a row.

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