'Rust' armourer Hannah Gutierrez Reed is seeking to block the appointment of a new prosecutor in her involuntary manslaughter case, after the first one resigned.
Gutierrez Reed and actor Alec Baldwin have both been charged in the death of Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer who was accidentally shot on set in October 2021, reports 'Variety'.
In a brief filed on Friday, Gutierrez Reed's lawyer argued that Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies is misusing the New Mexico statute that allows for the appointment of an outside prosecutor.
"The statute is not designed to give district attorneys a taxpayer-funded supplemental 'war chest' to prosecute cases involving 'high profile' actors or individuals," wrote defence lawyer Jason Bowles.
The original prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, stepped down two weeks ago after Baldwin's lawyers argued that she could not simultaneously serve as a legislator.
Reeb, a Republican state representative, has denied that political considerations played a role in the case. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Reeb sent the D.A. an email last year asking her to publicise Reeb's involvement in the case, "as it might help in my campaign lol."
Baldwin's lawyers have called the prosecution a "terrible miscarriage of justice." In a filing earlier this week, they wrote that the email shows that Reeb engaged in a 'further abuse of the system" by using the case to advance her political career.
Baldwin's lawyers have not objected to the appointment of a new special prosecutor, who would handle the case alongside Carmack-Altwies.
Special prosecutors are typically appointed when the D.A. has a conflict, but they can also be named when there is another "good cause."
But in a letter to the parties on Monday, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer noted that the law also provides that a special prosecutor "steps into and takes over the prosecution." That is, the elected D.A. would step aside.
The D.A.'s office had asked the court to approve the appointment of a new special prosecutor to take over for Reeb, but the judge indicated she would not do so without a waiver from the defendants or further legal arguments.
In a filing on Friday, Carmack-Altwies said that her office is understaffed, with just 20 prosecutors, three of whom plan to leave within a month. She also said that it is difficult to recruit new prosecutors in the state. She argued that a special prosecutor is needed to avoid drawing resources away from the office's caseload.
She also argued that a new special prosecutor will not be able to handle the case alone, because of the volume of material involved. A preliminary hearing is due to begin on May 3.
"Were the court to prohibit the District Attorney, and by extension her staff, from participating in the case, all of the groundwork done would either have to be redone by the special prosecutor or at best would have to be studied from the ground up," she wrote.
"This would greatly increase the workload of the special prosecutor, who is already facing immense pressure to prepare for a preliminary hearing a short five weeks away."
Carmack-Altwies stated that there is no ethical reason that she and the special prosecutor, who has not yet been identified, cannot work together on the case.
Gutierrez Reed's lawyer argued that the D.A.'s office routinely handles involuntary manslaughter cases, and that the law does not allow the D.A. to bring in outside help just because the case is high-profile.
The judge is set to hear arguments on the issue on Monday.
The D.A.'s office has faced criticism for its handling of the case. The office initially charged a gun enhancement that could have added five years to the potential sentence, only to find that the law was not in effect at the time of the 'Rust' shooting. The enhancement was later dropped.
Some legal experts have also questioned whether Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed in fact acted with "criminal negligence," which is required to prove the charge of involuntary manslaughter.