High-level officials accuse CYFD of retaliation

A husband and wife who blew the whistle on the state’s destruction of official records have filed a lawsuit against the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department, claiming they were fired from their jobs in retaliation. 

The lawsuit was jointly filed Tuesday by Cliff W. Gilmore, the former head of the CYFD’s Public Information Office, and his wife, Debra Gilmore, an attorney who led the agency’s newly formed Office of Children’s Rights. The suit, filed in New Mexico’s First Judicial Court, alleges that CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock and Deputy Secretary Terry Locke violated the state Whistleblower Protection Act by firing them for raising ethical concerns about a range of issues within the department. 

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished with permission. “When we asked questions and offered perspectives [about CYFD policies], we were shut down and retaliated against,” Cliff Gilmore told Searchlight New Mexico. 

“At the end of the day, my biggest concern is that children and families are being harmed by these practices,” Debra Gilmore added. The CYFD has been under intense scrutiny in the wake of a report in April by Searchlight New Mexico, revealing that the agency used the encrypted messaging app Signal to communicate on a wide range of official state business — and then set those communications to automatically delete. 

Legal experts say the practice likely violates open records laws and could hamper the ability of attorneys to represent children in state custody. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has directed his office to review the CYFD’s use of Signal, saying it is “highly concerning that public employees are potentially deleting public information without a thorough legal process.”

Prior to their firing on May 6, both Cliff and Debra Gilmore had repeatedly raised concerns within the CYFD about the practice, according to the lawsuit. 

Cliff Gilmore is a Marine veteran whose previous experience included work as a communications officer with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Lawsuit: AG violated open records law

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.

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.

Senator aims to exclude public job applicants from open records law

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.

Supreme Court to weigh expanding online court records access to press

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.

Lawsuit seeks to open up secretive medical marijuana program

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.

State GOP goes after Keller, says his office ignored IPRA request (updated)

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.”