When a state agency settles a lawsuit, often times the public’s focus is on how much money the state settled for. But an often overlooked portion of legal battles with state agencies is how much the state paid for legal representation.
Since former Gov. Susana Martinez left office nine months ago, there have been a number of news reports about settlement payouts to a handful of former state employees for alleged workplace discrimination. Often, public scrutiny is aimed at the plaintiffs. In a high profile settlement involving former Department of Public Safety employees, New Mexico’s former State Police Chief, who was accused of sexual harassment, called the claims from his former employees baseless and accused them of extorting money from tax payers. But lawyers from two different lawsuits covered extensively by NM Political Report argue that there should be more focus on how much the state pays for long, drawn-out legal defenses to ultimately settle for hundreds of thousands of dollars, specifically when women are the accusers.
‘It’s going to be like a proctology exam’
In December 2017, less than a month after the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center agreed to cut a jury trial short and settle with a former medical resident, Anesthesiology Chair Hugh Martin broke some bad news to his faculty—they would not be getting bonuses that year.
“I regret to inform the faculty that due to the recent legal settlement with the former dismissed problem resident, Cyndi Herald, that the Department had to reallocate the monies I had planned to use for a retention bonus to pay the settlement legal costs to Ms. Herald/Attorney Lisa Curtis,” Martin wrote.
The “problem resident” Martin referred to, Cynthia Herald, had spent years in a legal battle with her former employer.
The University of New Mexico paid out nearly $1 million to a former medical resident who accused medical school administrators of retaliating against her for reporting she was raped by a male resident. NM Political Report obtained the settlement agreement this week, nearly nine months after the case went to trial. The agreement, obtained by NM Political Report through a public records request, sheds some light on why the school settled with former University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center anesthesiology resident Cynthia Herald. But other specifics, like how much of the $800,000 settlement came from the school and how much from the state or what prompted the school to settle, remain murky at best. Herald now lives in Michigan, advocating for victims of sexual abuse and hopes to start a psychiatric residency program soon, according to her lawyer, Randi McGinn.
Before Cynthia Herald left the Bernalillo County courthouse last November she told reporters that she was relieved to finally gain closure on an ordeal with the University of New Mexico that lasted more than half a decade. Herald sued the university’s medical school, claiming she was wrongfully dismissed from a residency program and settled before closing arguments. The terms of the settlement were, by state law, temporarily shielded from public scrutiny. That meant the public couldn’t see the total amount UNM agreed to pay, including how much money was to come from the medical school’s anesthesiology department and how much from the state’s Risk Management Division. Seven months later, the University still won’t release that information and cites the same law.
The outcome of a recent lawsuit against the University of New Mexico and its medical school probably isn’t sitting well with some medical staff. A settlement over the university’s alleged mishandling of a reported rape cost staff their year-end bonus. That’s according to a department head who broke the news to his faculty, via email, about a month before Christmas last year. UNM settled a lawsuit filed by former anesthesiology resident Cynthia Herald in November for an undisclosed amount, but it was significant enough to impact her former department. A closer look at why that’s happening reveals that it may be unprecedented for an individual department to bear the brunt of a payout like the one Herald received.
After a contentious trial filled with tears, frustration and sharp warnings from the judge, both parties in a whistleblower lawsuit came to an agreement late Thursday night. The confidential settlement between the University of New Mexico Hospital and a former resident came after almost two weeks of testimony and hours before the jury was set to hear closing arguments. Former UNMH medical resident Dr. Cynthia Herald sued the school, alleging she was pushed out of the program after she told her bosses she was raped by a male colleague. UNMH attorneys disagreed, saying they removed her from the residency program because she made many possibly fatal mistakes during surgeries, had a prescription drug problem and did not take responsibility for her shortcomings. Related: See all our stories from this trial Herald told reporters after the trial she feels “a huge sense of relief” but that the decision to settle was not an easy one.
For a second day in a row fireworks lit up behind the scenes, without the jury present in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against the University of New Mexico Hospital. Dr. Cynthia Herald, a former medical resident, filed the lawsuit, alleging she was fired after telling her bosses that a male colleague raped her. Update: The two sides reached a settlement.
Like Wednesday, tensions between lawyers simmered Thursday morning, prompting District Judge Shannon Bacon to address both counsels. “You all hate this case,” Bacon said to lawyers for both UNMH and Herald. Bacon’s comment came after UNMH lawyers requested a mistrial, the third request so far in the two-week-long trial.
The sixth day of a trial in a whistleblower lawsuit against the University of New Mexico Hospital featured former and current hospital employees testifying about when former UNM resident Dr. Cynthia Herald told her bosses a colleague raped her and how her supervisors treated her afterwards. Neither side disputes that in September 2009, a few months after the alleged attack, Herald met with her supervisors and one woman tasked with taking notes. But neither side agrees what was said at the meeting. That meeting is a key event. Herald’s story about being kicked out of the residency program hinges on that meeting.
University of New Mexico lawyers questioned the former resident who brought a lawsuit against the medical school on Monday. UNM’s lawyers spent the day trying to poke holes in the testimony of Dr. Cynthia Herald, who alleges the medical school kicked her out of the residency program after she told administrators a male colleague raped her. Last week, Herald testified for hours about the events and UNMH’s response. Patricia Williams, a lawyer for UNMH, asked Herald what steps she took to preserve forensic evidence after the alleged rape. “Did you retain your underwear from that night?” Williams asked.