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Editorial: UNM bungled your right to see ex-AD’s work emails

It’s never a great situation when incompetence would appear to be your best defense. But that’s where we find the University of New Mexico and its handling of the Albuquerque Journal’s request to review emails from former Athletics Director Paul Krebs on his UNM email account.

The request covered emails generated while Krebs was at UNM and after he retired last spring as controversy swirled over financial mismanagement in the department and the fact public money paid for donors to go on a golf trip to Scotland.

In reviewing the IPRA request by Journal sports reporter Geoff Grammer, the university custodian noticed some emails were between Krebs – who continued to use the UNM email system after his departure – and his private lawyer. A spokeswoman says that raised concerns some of the communications were covered by attorney-client privilege.

What UNM did next was either a boneheaded move or deliberate flouting of the state Inspection of Public Records law.

Incredibly, the university turned ALL of Krebs’ emails over to his lawyer to peruse and remove the ones he felt should be protected. The UNM custodian didn’t even bother to keep a log so UNM would know which emails were pulled.

UNM marketing and communications officer Cinammon Blair says the school did this because “there is no way for anyone at UNM to sort them without risking violating attorney-client privilege.” But as Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, points out, it’s not even clear there is attorney-client privilege when emails are authored by a public employee on a public email system.

The university’s actions also would seem to run afoul of UNM’s “Policy 2500: Acceptable Computer Use.” It says UNM employees “understand that their emails are public.” And the last line reads: “Therefore, all employees are urged to use the same discretion and good judgment in creating electronic documents as they would use in creating paper documents.”

Krebs, who in records that were produced told colleagues to delete emails, should have known better. And even if UNM decided it wanted to allow Krebs’ lawyer to review and remove certain documents, it should have set up a process by which it was accountable for what was removed from the public file.

St. Cyr argues giving all emails to Krebs’ attorney to review and remove those he chose to is a clear violation of IPRA.

So it would seem. UNM botched its duties under IPRA. Whether it was bungling or worse is the only question left – that, and knowing what was pulled from Krebs’ email stack.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.