An Alamogordo resident filed an open records lawsuit against the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General Friday, alleging the office illegally redacted portions of legal invoices related to a U.S. Supreme Court case. Open records activist Wendy Irby filed the suit after she received significantly-redacted billing records for a contract between the Attorney General’s office and an Albuquerque law firm well-known in the state legal world for government contracts. According to court records, Irby asked the AG’s office for billing information from Robles, Rael and Anaya P.C. related to Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado, a case about the states’ water use and sharing. The private law firm argued the case on behalf of the AG’s office. Irby’s lawsuit says Attorney General Hector Balderas and his records custodian violated the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) by blacking out billing specifics from Robles Rael & Anaya.
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.
A southern New Mexico state senator Thursday filed a bill that would exclude job applications for public positions from the state’s open records law. Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, filed SB 93, which would exclude “records that would reveal the identity of an applicant for public employment” from the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). Papen told NM Political Report the bill is aimed at protecting job applicants’ privacy. “People should be able to apply for a job without having their name on the front page of the newspaper if they’re not a finalist,” Papen said. The bill specifies that finalists’ names and applications would be made public “no fewer than seven days prior to the final decision to hire the individual.” But the bill does not provide a definition for what a finalist is.
The New Mexico Supreme Court is set to decide whether or not to extend online access of court records to journalists next month. While some praise the proposed change as a move toward more transparency, others cite a growing distrust of news media as a reason for access to remain the same. Most court records are already available to the public, but only in-person through the clerk’s office in respective court houses. Online court records are only available to lawyers and court officials. The proposed rule would allow journalists, law enforcement officials and people representing themselves in court to apply for online access to court records.
A lawsuit by an open government and a local journalist seeks to open information on the state’s medical marijuana program that has proven to be highly secretive. The New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and independent journalist Peter St. Cyr announced a lawsuit to reveal the names of the non-profit medical marijuana providers. Currently, state Department of Health rules bar the release of the names of the medical marijuana providers. The ban is through regulation, and not statute.
The Republican Party of New Mexico says that the office of the State Auditor is not complying with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act. In a press release sent to media on Wednesday afternoon, the party says it received no response from an IPRA request sent to State Auditor Tim Keller’s office on May 4. Because of this, the party sent a complaint to Attorney General Hector Balderas. Update: The office of the State Auditor has responded to the request in a document dated May 20. The response calls the request “excessively burdensome” and that the office “will need additional time to respond to your requests but we will do so as soon as is reasonably practicable.”