That was Gov. Susana Martinez talking to a police dispatcher in December 2015 after hotel employees called in a noise complaint. Many of her critics focused on her slurred speech that night. But Martinez’s demand for what she deemed a public record grabbed the attention of journalists and open records advocates because of her administration’s history of delaying or outright denying public records. When she first ran for governor in 2010, Martinez vowed to be more transparent than her predecessor, Bill Richardson.
ByJustin Horwath and Jeff Proctor, New Mexico In Depth and the Santa Fe Reporter |
Just after midnight on May 20, Albuquerque Police Officer Joshua Montaño saw a luxury sedan veer into a turn bay blocked off by bright orange traffic barrels before it pulled back over a solid divider line onto an Interstate 25 frontage road. Montaño flipped on his emergency police lights and the 2004 Infiniti stopped in the parking lot of the Marriott Pyramid, a high-end hotel in Northeast Albuquerque. A veteran DWI cop who has conducted hundreds of drunken driving investigations, Montaño approached the vehicle on foot. He was armed with a slew of additional information gleaned from a police service aide and a concerned citizen: The Infiniti’s driver had swerved numerous times traveling northbound from downtown Albuquerque, he’d delayed proceeding through a green light by 10 seconds, he’d driven 10 mph under the posted speed limit, and he’d done it all with his headlights turned off. In the driver’s seat of the car was Ryan Flynn, 39, Gov. Susana Martinez’ former cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, who left that job in 2016 to become executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
Former State Sen. Phil Griego will serve 18 months in prison. A judge handed down the punishment Friday, four months after a jury found the San Juan Democrat guilty on five of eight charges in a corruption trial. Griego will also have to pay $47,000 in fines. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Griego did not accept responsibility for his crimes. “I genuinely believe I am not a criminal,” the former state senator told District Court Judge Brett Loveless.
Next month marks the beginning of Gov. Susana Martinez’s last year in office. This year, though, was peppered with lawsuits against either Martinez’s office or state departments under her appointees. At least two of the three major suits will spill over to 2018, bookending Martinez’s tenure as governor. See all of our year-end stories
A lawsuit against the New Mexico Public Education Department for allegedly underfunding the state’s schools received significant media attention in 2017. The case goes back several years and consolidated three similar cases.
Jennifer Padilla has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute meth in return for a two-year federal prison sentence. If a federal judge accepts the plea deal, the 39-year-old mother of five could be free in less than a year because of the 13 months she’s already spent in the Santa Fe County jail. Friday’s proposed sentence represents a significant reduction from the 10 or more years Padilla was facing behind bars. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. The plea agreement, negotiated between Padilla’s Santa Fe-based lawyer, L. Val Whitley, and federal prosecutors, came less than two months after Padilla alleged misconduct by a confidential informant in a 2016 operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Lawyers for the Santa Fe Reporter and Gov. Susana Martinez have submitted written closing arguments in a long-running court battle over public information and records. The Reporter sued Martinez in 2013, alleging she and her staff discriminated against the paper by refusing to communicate with its journalists and violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) by refusing to turn over records related to pardons, her schedule and other public business. The paper’s attorneys argued that the stonewalling began, ironically enough, after publication of a cover story critical of the administration’s lack of transparency. The unusual case has received wide attention, including from numerous state and local news organizations and from the Columbia Journalism Review. A victory for the newspaper could set new transparency standards for New Mexico state government; a win for the governor would mean some vindication for an elected official who has touted hers as “the most transparent administration in state history.”
A three-day bench trial in the courtroom of state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe concluded in April, setting the stage for both sides’ lawyers to sum up their cases in writing.
Testimony in the trial between the Santa Fe Reporter and the office of Gov. Susana Martinez ended Friday afternoon. Lawyers on both sides will file closing arguments in writing three weeks after the official court transcript is available. The Santa Fe Reporter filed the suit in 2013 arguing Martinez’s the governor’s office violated state public records laws and actively discriminated against the paper after it published unflattering coverage of the governor. During the three-day bench trial, testimony from former and current Martinez staffers offered a rare glimpse into how the governor’s staff handles media inquires and how they prioritize her agenda and her messages to the public. Throughout the trial, the governor’s contract lawyer Paul Kennedy tried to paint the picture of a busy governor’s office with overworked staff and not enough resources to adequately comply with state law and respond to every media request.
More than two years after being filed in federal court, a lawsuit over leaked emails from Gov. Susana Martinez’s 2010 campaign account was dismissed with prejudice Monday. Attorneys on both sides filed the motion to dismiss, which likely puts the issue to rest. “It’s dismissed with prejudice,” Bruce Wetherbee, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, told NM Political Report. “End of story.”
Dismissed with prejudice means that the lawsuit cannot be re-filed in court. Wetherbee worked with Independent Source PAC when the liberal political action committee publicly released some leaked emails from Martinez administration staffers and allies in 2012.
Despite a city ordinance that calls for the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, Santa Fe police officers are still arresting people and sending them to jail for possession. That’s according to a review by the Santa Fe Reporter, nearly two years after the city council passed the ordinance and 15 months after the ordinance was implemented. The officers are instead using the state law, which still calls for arrests and jail time, to make the arrests. The decriminalization calls for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to be punishable by a $25 fine; the state law, however calls for up to a $100 fine for a first-time offender and up to 15 days in jail. A second offense, again for one ounce or less, could cost the offender $1,000 and up to one year in jail.
A report by the Santa Fe Reporter delved into something that has troubled local reporters for some time: how unresponsive public information officers under Susana Martinez have been. The highly-paid positions are usually well above twice the median salary of the state. From the report:
Emails, phone calls and text messages to the public information officers are often ignored. Even program managers more often than not refuse to go on the record or discuss policy plans and objectives. Many claim they’ve been instructed not to talk to the press.