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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Meg James and Anousha Sakoui

‘Rust’ armorer seeks to block special prosecutor in criminal case

Attorneys for “Rust” weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez Reed are seeking to block the appointment of a new special prosecutor after a state lawmaker who had served in that role resigned amid controversy.

Gutierrez Reed’s lawyers on Friday blasted New Mexico 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies’ efforts to hire a new special prosecutor to try to win felony convictions against actor Alec Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed.

In late January, Carmack-Altwies charged Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed with involuntary manslaughter in the October 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust,” near Santa Fe. Both Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed have pleaded not guilty.

The Albuquerque attorneys representing armorer Gutierrez Reed — Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion — argued in a court filing Friday that New Mexico law doesn’t allow district attorneys to add a special prosecutor just because a case is high-profile.

Their court brief was the latest twist in the unfolding legal drama.

Carmack-Altwies sought a special prosecutor because her staff is small and public interest in Baldwin’s fate has been intense. Last summer, she hired veteran prosecutor Andrea Reeb — months before Reeb was elected to the New Mexico Legislature.

Attorneys for Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed attacked the selection, arguing in recent court documents that Reeb had an untenable conflict of interest. New Mexico law, they alleged, did not allow her to simultaneously serve in the legislative as well as judicial branches of government.

Reeb resigned this month, and Carmack-Altwies asked the judge to allow for the appointment of a new special prosecutor.

Gutierrez Reed’s attorneys argued that Baldwin’s fame shouldn’t be a factor for their client.

“It is fundamentally unfair to Ms. Gutierrez Reed, a 25-year-old young woman just beginning her career, to face a situation where the district attorney’s office is allowed to augment its staff and resources with taxpayer money,” Bowles and Bullion wrote.

They protested Carmack-Altwies’ request for a new special prosecutor, which they described as being part of an effort to “throw all of the weight of the state and more against (Gutierrez Reed), merely because this (case) is ‘high profile’ and has captured the attention of the national press,” they wrote in the brief.

“The statute’s plain language states that the district attorney may appoint a special prosecutor only ‘when (the district attorney) cannot prosecute a case for ethical reasons or other good cause,’” Bowles and Bullion wrote.

In a separate brief filed Friday, Carmack-Altwies argued that she had “good cause” to add a special prosecutor to her team.

She said her office, which represents three counties in northern New Mexico is short-staffed. She is supposed to have 25 attorneys on staff, but she has 17, and many of those lawyers are tied up with other important duties.

The state, she wrote, has already provided her with emergency funding to help finance the heavy workload of her office.

“The legislative intent and case law is clear: the District Attorney is permitted to appoint a special prosecutor for ‘other good cause,’ including when budgetary factors and caseloads justify doing so, as has been demonstrated here,” Carmack-Altwies wrote.

The judge overseeing the “Rust” cases, Mary Marlowe Sommer, has scheduled a hearing Monday to discuss the appointment of a special prosecutor.

The prosecution’s case has suffered setbacks, including having to downgrade the charges that were first announced.

Earlier this week, Baldwin’s team alleged their client couldn’t get a fair trial because Reeb had made comments in the media implying the actor was guilty without noting the presumption of innocence afforded to defendants.

In addition, Baldwin’s attorneys pointed to an email exchange between Reeb and Carmack-Altwies last June that suggested Reeb wanted the prosecutor role, in part, to advance her political career. Reeb was elected in November to represent a district in eastern New Mexico, which leans conservative. Prior to running for the Legislature, Reeb was a respected district attorney.

“At some point though, I’d at least like to get out there that I am assisting you ... as it might help in my campaign lol,” Reeb wrote in the June 2022 email, according to Baldwin’s court filings. The email exchange was first reported by The New York Times.

Earlier this week, Reeb said in an email to the Los Angeles Times that “charges brought on Baldwin were not for political reasons.” She said she did not speak to the media about the Baldwin case during her campaign and that her communications with Carmack-Altwies were taken out of context.

“It’s time people start remembering this case is about Alec Baldwin taking the life of Ms Hutchins. It’s not about anything else,” Reeb wrote. “I stepped down for this reason ... so the focus would be on what’s important ... the case and not me.”

Baldwin’s attorneys, in court filings this week, said they did not object to the naming of a new special prosecutor to replace Reeb.

Meanwhile, David Halls, the assistant director of “Rust,” who allegedly handed the loaded gun to Baldwin, has tentatively accepted a plea deal. A hearing on that matter is also scheduled for next week.

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