The Santa Fe Reporter newspaper filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that Gov. Susana Martinez illegally withheld public documents and selectively ignored requests for information because the governor disliked the weekly paper’s coverage.
The Reporter, in a 22-page complaint filed in state District Court in Santa Fe, said Martinez on multiple occasions has illegally shielded public documents required for release under the state Inspection of Public Records Act.
“This lawsuit is every bit about the fact that she is not disclosing documents she has. That’s our leading point,” said Daniel Yohalem, an attorney representing the Reporter.
In cases in which documents are released, the Reporter cited frequent delays – as long as 87 days in one case – despite state law that requires reasonable document requests be provided within 15 days.
Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell blasted the lawsuit as “baseless” and attacked the Reporter as a politically motivated publication.
“It’s not a surprise that a left-wing weekly tabloid that published stolen emails containing the governor’s personal underwear order would file a baseless suit like this,” Knell said in a statement. “Their public records requests are treated the same as every other citizen in New Mexico.”
Documents the Reporter says were wrongfully withheld include several emails relating to state business received by members of Martinez’s staff using private email accounts. Emails released by other sources indicated the requested documents existed, but IPRA requests for that information yielded no results, the Reporter said.
After reviewing a complaint from the Reporter, Attorney General Gary King weighed in on the dispute earlier this year, saying the private emails requested are public documents that should be released.
Martinez also has withheld documents that detail her schedule, calendar or appointments, the Reporter said. The Governor’s Office released information only about Martinez’s public events, and has ignored requests for information about nonpublic meetings or travel, the lawsuit says.
“The public of the state of New Mexico is entitled to know what she’s doing with her time,” Yohalem said. “…We’re entitled to a document that shows that. Their argument that it doesn’t exist is preposterous.”
The lawsuit also alleges Martinez’s staff ignored requests for information from the Reporter – but not other media outlets – because the paper published articles “that did not always cast her in a positive light.” The Reporter alleges the lack of responses violates the paper’s free-press protection in the state Constitution.
Reporter Editor Julie Ann Grimm said Martinez’s spokesman has returned just one of dozens of requests for comment the paper submitted to the governor during the past seven months.
“It’s very seldom in my experience in any one of these (other New Mexico media) outlets was it acceptable or common practice for the governor to just completely ignore an inquiry,” Grimm said.
Knell, the governor’s spokesman, called Grimm’s allegation “inaccurate.”