NM Senators welcome investigation into admin’s use of eminent domain for border wall

New Mexico’s U.S. Senators said an internal government watchdog will provide answers about how the Trump administration seized land to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee blocked an amendment one of those Senators, Tom Udall, introduced to the defense funding bill that would bar Trump from diverting money from military projects to fund the wall. In August, Udall and New Mexico’s other Senator, Martin Heinrich, signed onto a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Dick Durbin of Illinois asking for an investigation into the use of eminent domain to take land for the border wall. All four senators are Democrats. GAO wrote to the four Senators last week saying they would begin the review the Trump administration’s eminent domain efforts. 

“At the current time we anticipate that staff with the required skills will be available to initiate an engagement in about three months,” the GAO official wrote.

Legal costs, impact on women often overlooked in lawsuits

When a state agency settles a lawsuit, often times the public’s focus is on how much money the state settled for. But an often overlooked portion of legal battles with state agencies is how much the state paid for legal representation. 

Since former Gov. Susana Martinez left office nine months ago, there have been a number of news reports about settlement payouts to a handful of former state employees for alleged workplace discrimination. Often, public scrutiny is aimed at the plaintiffs. In a high profile settlement involving former Department of Public Safety employees, New Mexico’s former State Police Chief, who was accused of sexual harassment, called the claims from his former employees baseless and accused them of extorting money from tax payers. But lawyers from two different lawsuits covered extensively by NM Political Report argue that there should be more focus on how much the state pays for long, drawn-out legal defenses to ultimately settle for hundreds of thousands of dollars, specifically when women are the accusers. 

 ‘It’s going to be like a proctology exam’

In December 2017, less than a month after the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center agreed to cut a jury trial short and settle with a former medical resident, Anesthesiology Chair Hugh Martin broke some bad news to his faculty—they would not be getting bonuses that year. 

“I regret to inform the faculty that due to the recent legal settlement with the former dismissed problem resident, Cyndi Herald, that the Department had to reallocate the monies I had planned to use for a retention bonus to pay the settlement legal costs to Ms. Herald/Attorney Lisa Curtis,” Martin wrote. 

The “problem resident” Martin referred to, Cynthia Herald, had spent years in a legal battle with her former employer.

We asked prosecutors if health insurance companies care about fraud. They laughed at us.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. Like most of us, William Murphy dreads calling health insurance companies. They route him onto a rollercoaster of irrelevant voice menus, and when he finally reaches a human, it’s a customer service rep who has no idea what he’s talking about. Then it can take days to hear back, if anyone responds at all.

BernCo DA: New Mexico AG should review questionable police shootings

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez says he’s done waiting for a so-called “DA panel” to determine whether the Albuquerque police officer who killed 19-year-old Mary Hawkes in 2014 should be prosecuted. Instead, the first-term, Democratic DA in New Mexico’s most populous district wants the state’s highest-ranking law enforcement officer to decide. He has referred the case to state Attorney General Hector Balderas, according to a letter he sent to the Hawkes family’s legal team, which was obtained by New Mexico In Depth and the Santa Fe Reporter on Friday. 

And according to the letter, the Hawkes case is just the first. Going forward, he intends to refer all police shooting cases to the AG for a second look if his special prosecutors return recommendations that no charges be filed against the shooting officer. Not so fast, says Matt Baca, Balderas’ spokesman and general counsel.

Medicare-for-All is not Medicare, and not really for all. So what does it actually mean?

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Ritchard Jenkins reached into the black computer bag he keeps near his workstation at Graceful Touch Barber and Beauty Salon and rifled through medical papers, pulling out an envelope buried deep at the bottom.It was an unopened medical bill for $971.78, now 17 months overdue, that he had put out of sight and out of mind. Another unpaid bill from May for $447.13 rested in a nearby drawer.