State faces new open records suit over pay to guv’s favored attorney

A lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon in Santa Fe District Court aims to uncover how much New Mexico taxpayers shelled out for a private attorney to represent Gov. Susana Martinez’s office in a number of court cases. Journalist Jeff Proctor* filed the lawsuit against the state’s General Services Department (GSD) for not releasing attorney Paul Kennedy’s […]

State faces new open records suit over pay to guv’s favored attorney

A lawsuit filed Thursday afternoon in Santa Fe District Court aims to uncover how much New Mexico taxpayers shelled out for a private attorney to represent Gov. Susana Martinez’s office in a number of court cases.

Journalist Jeff Proctor* filed the lawsuit against the state’s General Services Department (GSD) for not releasing attorney Paul Kennedy’s invoices for his public work, claiming the department failed to comply with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).

The suit calls for the state to release specific invoices and bills that show how much the state has paid Kennedy to represent Martinez as contract counsel in several cases. In addition to retaining Kennedy, Martinez also has access to four state employed legal staff, whose combined salaries total $341,850.

The lawsuit states by not releasing Kennedy’s billing records GSD not only violated the open records law, “but also offend the spirit and intent of the law governing matters of public concern.”

That spirit of the law, said Proctor’s lawyer Frank Davis, “is to make sure we have an informed electorate.”

“We need to know where dollars are being spent,” Davis said.

Kennedy has been contracted for at least $850,000, but it’s unclear how much he has actually been paid or for what work he’s been compensated for.

New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Executive Director Peter St. Cyr called on Martinez to direct staff at GSD to release the billing records.

“For seven years, Gov. Susana Martinez has consistently promised New Mexicans that transparency is a top priority in her administration,” St. Cyr said. “It is in the public interest for the governor to honor that commitment and to recognize the doctrine that the people have a right to know.”

A spokesman with Martinez’s office referred questions to GSD.

GSD’s attorney Alexis Johnson told NM Political Report he had just seen the lawsuit and could not comment on pending litigation.

“I have no comment at this time,” Johnson said. “I’d have to look at it, but if there’s a proceeding on file I’m not going to have a comment right away.”

NM Political Report reached out to Kennedy for a response but did not receive one by press time.

According to the lawsuit, Proctor first requested about three years’ worth of “records of payment” from the state to Kennedy last June. In a delayed response, GSD informed Proctor it would send him responsive documents by July 5, 2016. After that deadline passed and the state didn’t release the documents, Proctor filed a formal public records complaint with New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office is tasked with enforcing compliance with IPRA.

About a month after the initial request and a formal complaint to the AG’s office, GSD provided Proctor with three contracts between Kennedy and Martinez’s office. Those contracts contained provisions requiring Kennedy to report his expenses and services performed to the state. But the records released to Proctor did not contain those reports from Kennedy.

Besides representing Martinez in the Santa Fe Reporter lawsuit, Kennedy also represented her in two other major IPRA lawsuits. One was filed by the Associated Press and the other was filed by the former head of the New Mexico Finance Authority.

The state department turned over three contracts, two with redacted billing records, but refused to disclose specifics of Kennedy’s scope of work.

In December, Balderas’ office determined that GSD not only violated IPRA in Proctor’s request by missing key deadlines, but its officials also failed to turn over key public documents.

“The Department should have provided, at a minimum, copies of the billing records requested with redaction of specific details of the attorney services which constitute attorney-client privilege,” Assistant Attorney General Joseph Dworak wrote in a December 2016 letter to GSD’s general council.

Proctor’s attempts to uncover those records culminated in an article for the Santa Fe Reporter examining Kennedy’s professional relationship with Martinez. In the article, Proctor noted that it is not uncommon for political figures to pay for legal counsel in addition to having attorneys on staff.

Proctor also found conflicting information regarding Kennedy’s contracts. In one instance, Proctor found that the state awarded Kennedy $850,000 in contracts with hourly payments ranging from $150 to $250, depending on whether Kennedy or a lower level attorney was doing the work. In another instance, Proctor found through the state’s public database that Kennedy was awarded $716,633 in contracts but was actually paid $413,528.

According to New Mexico’s court records database, besides Martinez, Kennedy has 14 other pending criminal and civil cases in state court going back to 2013. There are also a few dozen closed cases Kennedy worked on, according to the same database.

* Proctor has written a freelance story for NM Political Report in the past and we occasionally run his stories from New Mexico In Depth. Proctor did not have any input into this story.

Update: added a response from Martinez’s office. 

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

Both Republicans and Democrats skeptical of guv’s proposals for special session

A representative from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office outlined on Thursday the bills the governor’s office will back during the upcoming special session, but…
Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

Senators throw support to embattled Ivey-Soto

By Justin Horwath, New Mexico In Dept Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto is running for a fourth term despite the state Democratic Party’s decision to censure…
AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

AG announces legislative priorities for upcoming special session

Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced on Thursday his legislative priorities for July’s special legislative session, including the creation of a crime victim’s unit to…
LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico Last fall, the international community rose up in defense of the Pacific Ocean. Seafood and salt purveyors,…
Program administrator outlines how waitlisted community solar projects will be selected

Program administrator outlines how waitlisted community solar projects will be selected

The program administrator for New Mexico’s community solar program released guidance Thursday for waitlisted projects. The new guidelines follow a petition from several developers…
Community organizations propose providing naturalized immigrants with public lands passes

Community organizations propose providing naturalized immigrants with public lands passes

A group of advocates are asking the federal government to give naturalized citizens a one-year pass to the national parks. President Joe Biden’s signing…
Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

Stansbury outlines funding secured for early childhood and youth services programs

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury secured $8.3 million for childhood development and youth services in the 1st congressional district through federal community project funding. Stansbury,…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

Heinrich questions FDA leadership on baby formula safety, mifepristone

U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf answered questions about the safety of human milk formula and mifepristone on Wednesday. Sen. Martin…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

With nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, most of the legislative candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes New…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
Senate Republicans block bill to ensure access to contraception

Senate Republicans block bill to ensure access to contraception

Senate Republicans blocked an effort to pass a bill to protect access to contraception this week. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján,…
Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

Democrats announce spending on CD2 race

The Democratic National Committee announced on Monday that it will spend $70,000 for organizing staff to aid U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez, the Democrat trying…
Handful of legislators lose primaries

Handful of legislators lose primaries

Every legislative seat is up for grabs in 2024, which means all incumbents who sought reelection had to face the voters. Most did not…
Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

Many Democrats endorsed by reproductive rights group won primaries

With nearly 53 percent of the precincts reporting as of 11 p.m. Tuesday, most of the legislative candidates endorsed by Planned Parenthood Votes New…
Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

Abortion medication access remains after Supreme Court ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Texas-based Christian group trying to restrict access to abortion medication on Thursday. The case, FDA v. the…
How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

How abortion care has changed since Dobbs 

In the month of March 2024 alone, 1,650 clinician-provided abortions took place in New Mexico, according to the reproductive research organization, the Guttmacher Institute.…
LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

LANL plans to release highly radioactive tritium to prevent explosions. Will it just release danger in the air?

By Alicia Inez Guzmán, Searchlight New Mexico Last fall, the international community rose up in defense of the Pacific Ocean. Seafood and salt purveyors,…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report