Facing a potential refiling of criminal charges in the fatal 2021 shooting of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Alec Baldwin today failed in his attempt to have a civil case over the tragedy dismissed.
In a technically challenged virtual hearing this morning before New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court judge Bryan Biedscheid, Baldwin and co-defendants El Dorado Pictures and Rust Movie Productions’ motion to dismiss was denied. The judge also denied an additional motion to stay the matter until the criminal trial is over.
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Earlier this year, Rust crew members Ross Addiego, Doran Curtin and Reese Price took Baldwin and the production companies to court for “negligent and reckless conduct.” Facing a plethora of cases arising out of the shooting on the indie Western, the defendants had a back-up plan to have the Addiego, Curtin and Price case stayed until the Rust criminal trial is over.
Proclaiming that he “doesn’t’ know” the state of “criminal prosecution with Mr. Baldwin” at present, Judge Biedscheid said it was “surprisingly common” that a defendant straddled both a criminal and civil case. Seemingly leaning to towards not pausing this matter, the judge did open the door to defendants’ being able to “assert their constitutional rights as they see fit” going forward as he denied the stay.
This is the second significant courtroom shift in the Rust matter this week.
On August 21, the criminal trial of armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed over Hutchins’ death was pushed to February 21, 2024.
Though no official word was given for this latest delay in the much-delayed matter, “scheduling issues” around witnesses seems to be at the core of the move. The criminal trial is expected to last about two weeks – though that could change if Baldwin is back in the case.
Gutierrez-Reed and Rust producer-star Baldwin — who was pointing a Colt .45 gun when it discharged, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza — were charged in late January with two counts of second-degree involuntary manslaughter – charges that were altered soon afterwards. At present, Gutierrez-Reed is at a maximum of 18 months behind bars and about $5,000 in fines if found guilty.
Up against a wall of constitutional criticism and more, the charges against Baldwin were dropped in April, but recently appointed special prosecutors noted at the time that the charges could be refiled at a later date if evidence emerged. Additionally, prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis added an evidence-tampering charge against Gutierrez-Reed two months later, saying the armorer “did transfer narcotics to another person with the intent to prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of herself.”
Amidst all that, a recently released forensics report on the controversial firearm itself commissioned by prosecutors Morrissey and Lewis rejected Baldwin’s long insistence that he never pulled the trigger on the gun. “Although Alec Baldwin repeatedly denies pulling the trigger, given the tests, findings and observations reported here, the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver,” the August 2 report from weapons examiners Lucien Haag and Michael Haag.
Despite damage the gun endured in previous examinations, the Haags’ findings replicate the conclusions of the FBI from later last year.
“Charges against Mr. Baldwin are being considered but a final decision has not yet been made,” said special prosecutor Morrisey last week. No timeline on said final decision has been unveiled, but it is expected in the next month at most.
In today’s hearing, plaintiffs’ attorney Alex Cervantes noted “there are a lot of moving parts” in the case. She also exclaimed that Rust decided to hire “inexperienced contractors” like armorer Gutierrez-Reed to “cut costs” – assertions that have come up over and over in the various cases involving Rust.
Arguing the negligence claims, Cervantes noted the “multiple crew members who resigned” the day of the October 21, 2021 shooting, citing “safety concerns” – as has been mentioned in a number of cases around Rust. “It’s all there, this is a robust complaint,” added Cervantes, asking Judge Biedscheid to reject the dismissal motion – as he subsequently did.
Getting into the joint venture weeds himself, defendant attorney Robert Schwartz argued that Baldwin simply had a “producing agreement that gives him virtually no power” on Rust. The notion flies in the face of Baldwin’s previously stated status on the film, which he conceived with director Joel Souza. “The very contract that they’re asserting created this relationship did not create this relationship.”
Schwartz unsuccessfully advised the court today that the stay on the civil matter and any discovery be put in place for a “couple of weeks” until it is decided if Baldwin will be pulled back into the criminal prosecution. After the judge’s rulings, Schwartz called the matter a “real injustice” as Baldwin is “on the verge of being charged criminally.”
Whether or not Baldwin does return to the criminal case, Rust the movie wrapped its resurrected production this spring after filming in Montana. Which means that the movie could be released as the various civil trials continue through the courts in California and the Land of Enchantment.
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