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The New Season: New Mexico to investigate 'Kid Nation'

August 23, 2007 | 12:24 pm

The New Mexico attorney general’s office said Thursday that it is launching an investigation into whether CBS and the producers of "Kid Nation" broke state laws while the controversial reality show was filmed near Santa Fe this spring.

"Information is being evaluated now and reviewed in light of all the interest in this," spokesman Phil Sisneros said. "We are determining what our next move will be or even if there will be one. Even though it seems it’s kind of a moot point, there are a lot of things to look into that we could still address."

Among the issues the attorney general will review will be the production’s permit process, the contract between the parents and the producers and whether the production company illegally refused to allow inspectors on the property for routine inspections.

Sisneros said officials became aware of the show -- which places 40 kids, ages 8 to 15, in the New Mexico desert to build a society without any contact with their parents -- when an inspector from the Department of Workforce Solutions notified the attorney general that he was not allowed on the property to inspect work permits.

Officials from the Department of Workforce Solutions have said that the production company did not follow standard procedures when it denied them access to the set three times to investigate the work permit issue. The production began April 1, and the inspector first appeared on the ranch April 13. On this visit, the inspector was allowed into the base camp area where producers work, but was not allowed to observe filming, spokesman Carlos Castaneda said. The next day, he returned and was not allowed through the gate because it was a "closed set," Castaneda said. When the inspector returned Monday, CBS lawyers had been in contact with county officials and the attorney general’s office, so the inspector left.

Jonathan Anschell, executive vice president and general counsel for CBS Corp., disputes this version of the events. Anschell said the inspector was allowed on set April 13, took photographs, and left because creator Tom Forman was unavailable and it was time for him to go home. Anschell said the inspector said he would return over the weekend but did not show up on set again until Monday.

By then, local lawyers working for CBS had filed letters with the attorney general’s office and other state departments outlining why they believed no work permits were necessary.

Forman said he leased the Bonzana Creek Movie Ranch site for the production. Asked how a TV production company could refuse to let a government worker do his job, Sisneros said: "They pretty much can do anything they want at the site because it's private property. Obviously, they did. Whether or not what they did is legal is another question."

-- Maria Elena Fernandez