August 6, 2019

NM releases settlement info from case against previous administration

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A New Mexico department released specifics of legal settlements Tuesday between the Department of Public Safety and some of its former employees. 

The state’s General Services Department released specifics of the settlement agreements for former DPS employees Dianna DeJarnette, Terri Thornberry and former DPS Deputy Secretary Amy Orlando. 

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The records from General Services show DeJarnette and Orlando each received settlements of $300,000, while Thornberry received $400,000.

Thom Cole, a spokesman for the General Services, said the release is partially in response to increased interest in a large settlement that was agreed upon by former Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Cole said the department has been fielding public records requests for specifics of the settlement. But state law requires any claims settled by Risk Management — which is under General Services — have to remain confidential for 180 days and the law is somewhat ambiguous about when that 180 days starts.  

“Rather than have people continue to file [records requests] one after another, after another, trying to hit the right date, we just decided to go ahead and release them,” Cole said. 

The settlements are part of a lawsuit filed by DeJarnette, Thornberry and Orlando alleging employment discrimination and harrasment, specifically by former State Police Chief Pete Kassetas. 

Kassetas has been outspoken about the case since KRQE-TV first reported on it. He still maintains that the large settlement amount and the original confidentiality period of three years was at least partially to protect Martinez. Kassetas previously accused the former DPS employees of trying to “extort” the state. On Tuesday, just after General Services released some of the dollar amounts, Kassetas called the settlement a “slush fund to protect politicians.” 

“It should have been transparent from day one as it could have been,” Kassetas told NM Political Report

Orlando’s history with Martinez goes back at least a decade. 

After Martinez was elected governor and left her position as the district attorney in Doña Ana County, she appointed Orlando, Martinez’s chief deputy District Attorney, as her replacement. After Orlando lost her race against current DA Mark D’Antonio, then-Attorney General Gary King opened an investigation into whether Orlando destroyed public documents. Orlando eventually got a job with DPS as deputy secretary.