Governor Susana Martinez announced today that her administration has reached a settlement with the Albuquerque Journal in a lawsuit filed by the paper against the previous governor that alleged violations of the state's Inspection of Public Records Act ("IPRA").
In February 2010, the Journal requested records relating to Governor Bill Richardson's announcement in late 2009 that 59 exempt employees were being released due to the ongoing economic downturn. In June 2010, the Journal filed a lawsuit against the Office of Governor Richardson for failing to produce requested documents, failing to issue a proper denial of the records request or explain the basis for the denial, and failing to refer the records request to other state agencies that may have been in possession of responsive documents.
As a part of the settlement with the Journal, the Office of the Governor agreed to send out the following public notification of the settlement:
a. Under the new administration, the Office of the Governor directed counsel to interview individual state employees involved in the selection and termination of the 59 exempt employees described in the Richardson Administration's Press Release, dated October 23, 2009, to determine if there were documents responsive to the Journal's request under IPRA, dated February 24, 2010, that were not produced.
b. As a result of those interviews, the Office of the Governor determined that it is likely there existed documents in the possession of the Office of Governor Richardson at the time of the press release that would have been responsive to the Journal's February 24, 2010, IPRA request. These documents included notations made by Governor Richardson's Special Director. However, the Governor's counsel determined that it is not clear from evidence available today whether these responsive documents were still in existence at the time of the Journal's IPRA request in February 2010.
c. In addition, the Office of the Governor has determined that the Journal's IPRA request should have been forwarded to the Department of Finance and Administration. That department had responsive records, including documents identifying exempt employees whose separations the Department of Finance and Administration processed to implement the elimination of exempt employee positions referenced in Governor Richardson's press release. Under these circumstances, the prior administration's failure to make this referral appears to have violated IPRA.
d. In return for this disclosure by the Office of the Governor of its investigation and findings regarding the prior administration's response to the February 2010 IPRA request, the Journal is satisfied that the public interest has been vindicated by the Governor's disclosure of the results of this investigation and that no further purpose would be served by continuing to litigate the case when (a) the current administration did not issue the IPRA response made by the prior administration; and (b) any responsive documents that at one time were in
the possession of the Office of the Governor during the prior administration are no longer available and therefore cannot be turned over by the current administration. It is apparent that this fact is not a consequence of any action by the current administration.
e. The State has agreed to reimburse the Journal its legal expenses incurred in prosecuting the IPRA lawsuit and the Journal has agreed as part of the settlement to dismiss its IPRA action with prejudice.
"I am pleased that we were able to reach a mutual agreement to resolve this lawsuit and avoid further expenditure of public funds," said Governor Martinez. "State resources are better spent moving forward rather than defending a lawsuit under these circumstances."