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Albuquerque Journal Sues Gov. Bill Richardson For Withholding Public Records

By   /   June 20, 2010  /   No Comments

The controversy over the jobs Governor Bill Richardson claims to have cut has reached the boiling point.  On June 3, 2010, The Albuquerque Journal and its award-winning investigative reporter, Colleen Heild, filed suit against Richardson under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.  The suit alleges that Richardson has violated that law by withholding the names and titles of persons whose positions have been eliminated, has withheld records that would confirm the$8.2 million in savings claimed by Richardson, and has refused to forward the requests to other persons in state government who may be in possession of public records responsive to the newspaper’s request.

Also named in the suit is Marcie Maestas, the custodian of records for the Governor’s office, and up to three John Does who are employees of the Governor’s office who have participated in the alleged violations of the Inspection of Public Records Act.

The lawsuit recounts the history of the budget battle between Richardson and the Legislature in November 2009.  Richardson vetoed legislation that would have required him to reduce his budget by 7% and required him to eliminate the positions of 102 executive branch employees. Instead, Richardson announced that he himself would eliminate 84 exempt or political hires.

On December 2, 2009, Richardson’s office issued a press release stating he had eliminated 59 exempt positions.  To this day, however, Richardson has never identified the positions eliminated or the persons who lost their jobs.  He has, though, claimed that his actions saved the state $8.2 million.  Richardson’s public information officer has outright refused to identify the individuals and positions eliminated.

On February 24, 2010, Heild filed a request under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records act to see all records that would identify the individuals and positions eliminated and would substantiate the claim of $8.2 million in savings.

On April 5, 2010, according to the complaint, Richardson’s office said it had compiled the records responsive to the request and would make them available for Heild’s inspection and copying at $.50 per page.  But what Richardson produced, the suit alleges, were little more than requests from other journalists and media outlets for the same records.  Nothing produced was responsive to Heild’s request.  No exemption from the Inspection of Public Records Act was invoked by the Governor.

The suit then argues that the Governor is obviously withholding records that were used to calculate the $8.2 million in savings claimed and tally the number of positions the Governor claimed he eliminated.

The complaint sets forth three claims for relief:  violation of the Inspection of Public Records Act, which seeks fines of $100 per day and attorney fees; a declaration that Richardson and the other defendants have violated the Inspection of Public Records Act; and an injunction and writ of mandamus ordering Richardson and his office to produce the requested documents.  If an injunction issues, and Richardson does not comply, the next step would be for the Journal to seek to have him held in contempt.

The lawsuit was filed by the Albuquerque attorney Charles Peiffer.

Here’s the Journal’s story.

Here’s the lawsuit.  Richardson’s answer is not yet due.



Jim formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.