September 27, 2016

Lawsuit over Guv’s emails ends

Andy Lyman

Federal Courthouse in Albuquerque

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.

He joined former state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman, former Martinez campaign manager Jamie Estrada, former Martinez campaign aide Anissa Ford, former Independent Source PAC Executive Director Michael Corwin and former state Democratic Party operative Jason Loera as defendants in the civil lawsuit.

The suit accused the six defendants of illegally hijacking and disclosing emails with confidential information to the public.

Among other things, the emails shed light on insider lobbyist access within the Martinez administration and controversial decisions like the state’s 25-year lease extension of the Downs at Albuquerque Racetrack and Casino. They also showed Martinez administration conducting public business on private email channels.

Among those embarrassed by the email disclosures was Pat Rogers, an Albuquerque attorney, lobbyist and former Republican National Committeeman who represented the Downs during the bid process for the lease extension. One of his emails joked about Martinez dishonoring Col. George Armstrong Custer by attending a meeting with Native Americans, the disclosure of which led to Rogers’ resignation as vice president of Modrall Sperling Law Firm.

Rogers was one of the attorneys representing the four plaintiffs suing in the lawsuit. He and several other attorneys involved in the lawsuit, on both sides did not return calls from NM Political Report Tuesday afternoon.

The plaintiffs were Crystal Amaya, Brad Cates, Brian Moore and Kim Ronquillo, whose names showed up in some of the leaked emails.

While Independent Source PAC released some of the emails pertaining to the Downs and other state business, most were disclosed by the Santa Fe Reporter after the newspaper obtained them in 2012 from a public records request with then-Attorney General Gary King*. Corwin had turned over the emails to King’s office after asking for an investigation into the Downs deal.

Martinez’s office and other allies focused on personal emails King released to the Santa Fe Reporter as a public record, as Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote in 2014.

Throughout the process, Martinez claimed the emails were stolen and asked the FBI to intervene. A federal investigation eventually led to the indictment of Estrada, who later pleaded guilty to intercepting some of the emails.

The four plaintiffs filed the civil suit in June 2014. Rogers soon made an entry of appearance after the Santa Fe Reporter disclosed his ties to the lawsuit.

Soon, Corwin defended himself by stating he was well within his First Amendment rights “to publish information of great public concern.”

Along the way, the plaintiffs unsuccessfully attempted to shield the leaked emails from public access, though the emails  had already been published and available for anyone to read on the Santa Fe Reporter website for more than three years.

They also attempted to obtain emails exchanged between Ford and Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Justin Horwath, again unsuccessfully.

It’s unclear whether the dismissal of the lawsuit included a settlement, and if so what the terms were.

*The author of this article, who used to work for the Santa Fe Reporter, filed the 2012 public records request with the Attorney General that netted all of the emails.

Read the lawsuit dismissal below:

Email Lawsuit Dismissed by New Mexico Political Report on Scribd