In another dust-up with a former female employee, the office of state Attorney General Gary King has been ordered to pay nearly $47,000 in attorney fees and costs for failing to give her documents to which she was entitled under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.
State District Judge C. Shannon Bacon found the AG’s Office failed to provide the woman with the documents, but said there was no evidence it intentionally withheld them.
The documents were requested by Deborah DeMack, an assistant attorney general from 2002 to 2008.
In 2010, DeMack filed state and federal lawsuits against the AG’s Office alleging wrongful termination, gender and age discrimination, breach of contract and more.
Also, in 2011, she filed a lawsuit alleging the AG’s Office had improperly withheld documents requested by her under IPRA.
Among the records sought by DeMack were personnel file documents concerning the salary histories of lawyers in the AG’s Office.
In an order issued last month, Bacon said the AG’s Office produced spreadsheets in response to DeMack’s request when it should have produced the actual personnel file documents, which contained information requested by DeMack that was not included in other documents provided by the AG’s Office.
“There is no evidence that in doing so the Attorney General’s Office intended to withhold documents,” the judge wrote.
King spokesman Phil Sisneros said the office provided a total of 3,606 pages of documents to DeMack, believing they contained the information she had requested.
Sisneros said the amount of attorney fees awarded to DeMack was excessive.
Bacon awarded a total of $46,558 in legal fees and costs to DeMack for her work and the work of another lawyer on the case.
DeMack said the judge’s decision affirmed that the AG’s Office, like all government agencies, must comply with the Inspection of Public Records Act.
As for the state and federal lawsuits brought by DeMack over her termination, the AG’s Office denied the allegations, and both lawsuits were dismissed this year without making it to trial. DeMack said she agreed to dismiss the cases as part of a settlement that awarded her $5,000.
The AG’s Office was also sued in 2010 in federal court for gender-based pay inequity by three other women – two former assistant attorneys general and one current assistant AG.
Two of the women settled with the AG’s Office last year. The tentative settlement called for them to share in an award of $31,500. The AG’s Office also agreed to seek state funding for a pay-equity study of his office and to adopt a policy to prevent gender-based pay inequity.
The third female plaintiff in the case declined to settle and continues to pursue the litigation.
The lawsuit sparked a separate, but related, legal fight between the women’s attorney and the AG’s Office.
In 2010, the women’s attorney sent the AG’s Office a request under the state Inspection of Public Records Act for documents related to salaries and other employee information.
The AG’s Office refused to turn over the records because a federal magistrate had put a halt to evidence discovery in the lawsuit. The women’s attorney sued in state court for the documents and won.
The AG’s Office was ordered to pay about $20,000 in legal fees and costs as a result of withholding the records, but it appealed. After a mixed ruling from the state Appeals Court, the case is now pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court.
King, elected AG in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, inherited the issue of women’s pay in the AG’s Office. I first wrote about complaints from female attorneys 20 years ago.
King is one of two announced candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor in the primary election next June. Gov. Susana Martinez, who is seeking a second four-year term, is the only announced Republican candidate.
The King camp has become more active in recent weeks, but it needs to brush up on its spelling.
The campaign last week issued a statement criticizing Republicans in the U.S. House for proposed funding cuts in food stamps.
It was a stretch to tie Martinez to the proposed cuts, but King tried, saying she was also a Republican. In doing so, his campaign misspelled the governor’s first name as “Suzanne.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.