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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Meg James

Alec Baldwin seeks to disqualify ‘Rust’ special prosecutor

Alec Baldwin is seeking to have a New Mexico lawmaker overseeing “Rust” criminal prosecutions disqualified from the case.

One week after Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter in the accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, the actor’s legal team filed a motion demanding that special prosecutor Andrea Reeb be removed from Baldwin’s case.

In Tuesday’s motion, Baldwin’s lead defense attorney, Luke Nikas, argued the New Mexico Constitution prevents Reeb — a state legislator — from simultaneously holding a position in the judicial or executive branch of government.

Reeb, a former district attorney from eastern New Mexico, joined the “Rust” prosecution team last summer amid her campaign for a seat in the New Mexico Legislature.

The Republican was elected to her first term in November; she assumed her seat in the New Mexico Legislature Jan. 1.

The motion argued that Reeb’s dual role opened the door for politics to seep into Baldwin’s prosecution.

“A prosecutor who also serves as a legislator could face pressure to make prosecutorial decisions that serve her legislative interests, such as by prosecuting a prominent defendant associated with an opposing faction within the Legislature even in the face of conflicting evidence or law,” Baldwin’s motion reads.

Baldwin, whose long career included roles in “The Hunt for Red October,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “30 Rock,” famously lampooned former President Donald Trump on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” making him a polarizing figure among political conservatives.

Prosecutors declined to respond to the allegations contained in Nikas’ motion.

“Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys can use whatever tactics they want to distract from the fact that Halyna Hutchins died because of gross negligence and a reckless disregard for safety on the ‘Rust’ film set,” New Mexico 1st Judicial District Attorney spokesperson Heather Brewer said in a statement. “However, the district attorney and the special prosecutor will remain focused on the evidence and on trying this case so that justice is served.”

The move comes as Baldwin’s legal team has been expanded to include other partners of Nikas’ firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Alex Spiro, who represents Elon Musk and has played a pivotal role in his takeover of Twitter, joined the case along with John Bash, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Texas. Bash also served as a special assistant to Trump and associate counsel to the president. Since 2020, he has been an Austin, Texas-based partner of Quinn Emanuel.

Nikas, a New York attorney, has represented Baldwin in the “Rust” case for nearly a year.

Baldwin was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

In charging documents, New Mexico prosecutors — led by 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, who oversees the tricounty region that includes Santa Fe — laid out the case against Baldwin by citing reckless behavior and safety lapses on the set of “Rust.” Such negligence led to the Oct. 21, 2021, fatal shooting, they said.

“Baldwin acted with willful disregard of the safety of others and in a manner that endangered other people,” the prosecutors said in the probable-cause statement. The statement also said that Baldwin was distracted on his cellphone during firearms training; that he should have checked the weapon that was handed to him; and that he should not have pointed the loaded weapon at the cinematographer and the film’s director, Joel Souza, who was injured.

Beyond his role as star of the western, Baldwin also acted as a producer who was responsible to ensure safety on the set, the prosecutors argued.

Baldwin has denied responsibility for the fatal discharge and blamed the actions of others on set for the tragedy.

“Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed, 25, was charged with two felony counts of involuntary manslaughter. First assistant director David Halls was charged with negligent use of a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor. Halls pleaded no contest in exchange for a suspended six-month sentence of unsupervised probation. His plea agreement is pending approval by a judge.

Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed are expected to make their first court appearances later this month.

“Under Section 1 of Article III of the New Mexico Constitution, however, a sitting member of the Legislature may not ‘exercise any powers properly belonging’ to either the executive or judicial branch,” Nikas wrote in a motion filed on behalf of Baldwin.

The motion noted that the Legislature has granted partial funding to Carmack-Altwies’ office for the “Rust” prosecution. The proposed budget included a request for $156,000 for Reeb’s salary.

The motion argued that it wasn’t enough for Reeb to abstain from votes dealing with the “Rust” prosecution budget.

“Even if she does not allow her legislative interests to influence her prosecutorial choices, the perception of bias could diminish public confidence in the fairness of the criminal process,” Nikas’ motion reads. “Defendant hereby moves the Court for an order disqualifying the special prosecutor from further participation in this case.”

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