April 20, 2015

Answers filed in leaked email lawsuit

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Three defendants in a federal lawsuit are fighting back in the latest development of an ongoing scandal involving leaked emails from the campaign account of Gov. Susana Martinez.

gavel on stack of documentsIn answers filed earlier this month, state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman and private investigator Michael Corwin, who ran the Martinez-critical Independent Source PAC, deny that they illegally “hijacked” emails from the governor’s campaign account.

Jamie Estrada, who briefly served as Martinez’ campaign manager in 2009 and is now serving time in federal prison after admitting to intercepting campaign emails in a plea deal last year, also filed an answer denying that he caused damages to the plaintiffs.

The controversy dates back to the summer of 2012, when emails from the governor’s campaign account began leaking to the media. Scores of leaked emails showed top lobbyists communicating with governor’s office staffers about a controversial Albuquerque racino deal before the decision, among other things. Corwin, who was investigating the $1 billion, 25-year Downs At Albuquerque lease extension with the state and criticizing it as a pay-to-play deal, published some of the emails on his website.

Martinez claimed the emails were stolen and asked the FBI to investigate. By the summer of 2013, the US Attorney in New Mexico indicted Estrada for intercepting the campaign emails. Estrada later admitted to reregistering Martinez’ campaign email domain in July 2011 under a fake name and diverting hundreds of emails over the next year to an account that he controlled.

Last summer, Estrada pleaded guilty to two felonies. He’s now currently serving a nine-month prison sentence.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after Estrada’s plea deal by four citizens whose emails showed up in the leaks. It also names former New Mexico Democratic Party operative Jason Loera, former Martinez campaign staffer Anissa Ford and Bruce Wetherbee, who worked with Corwin at Independent Source PAC, as defendants. Each are accused of disseminating the emails and violating the federal Wiretap Act and the Stored Communication Act.

Estrada’s answer to the lawsuit, filed earlier this week, admits to intercepting “hundreds of emails associated with susana2010.com,” the email domain account in question. But he denies intercepting the emails “with the assistance or knowledge of any other defendant” and denies providing any of the emails directly to any defendant except for Loera.

Corwin, for his part, admits receiving emails from “a confidential source.” His answer goes on to state that he handed several emails over to then-Attorney General Gary King “in response to a demand” by King’s office.

Corwin had asked King’s office to investigate the Downs contract.

“Mr. Corwin expressly denies that the email messages of Plaintiffs were ‘private and confidential,’” his answer brief reads. “Mr. Corwin further expressly denies that he provided email messages of Plaintiffs to ‘partisan bloggers, Democratic political operatives, reporters and the media,’ or to anyone other than the Attorney General.”

Last fall, Corwin asked U.S. District Court Judge William “Chip” Johnson to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds that he was within his First Amendment rights “to publish information of great public concern.” Johnson, who also sentenced Estrada after the indictment, recently allowed the lawsuit to continue but dismissed Ford as a defendant.

Bregman’s name came up in the scandal when he was accused of using one of the leaked emails in a separate lawsuit. An attorney, Bregman writes in his answer that he disclosed “a single email” that constituted “communication that is publicly available under the Freedom of Information act and any other State or Federal laws that apply to make that communication publicly-available.”

King handed over all of the emails Corwin sent to his office in November 2012 to the Santa Fe Reporter, which requested them under the state Inspection of Public Records Act.

Two plaintiffs in the lawsuit—Brian Moore and Kim Ronquillo—previously worked in the Martinez administration. But last month, the Santa Fe Reporter wrote that Republican lobbyist Pat Rogers made an entry of appearance shortly after the newspaper found evidence that Rogers was also tied to the lawsuit.

Rogers, who lobbied for the Downs during its bidding process with the state, appeared in several leaked emails.

Read three plaintiffs’ answers to the lawsuit below:

Jamie Estrada

Michael Corwin

Sam Bregman

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