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Sheriff sues AG, records custodian over missing memo

SANTA FE – The sheriff of Los Alamos County is suing state Attorney General Hector Balderas and the records custodian for the AG’s office, accusing them of unlawfully withholding public records.

The AG’s office, which is responsible for enforcing public records laws, says the lawsuit’s claims are bogus. “This lawsuit is meritless, contains factual errors and is frivolous,” said James Hallinan, a spokesman for the AG’s office.

According to the complaint by Sheriff Marco Lucero, he attended a meeting with the executive director of the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association and an assistant attorney general at the AG’s office in Santa Fe in August 2016. At that meeting, they were shown what was described to them as a final version of a memorandum Assistant Attorney General Peter Auh had prepared expressing an opinion or evaluation that had to do with a dispute over the sheriff’s legal responsibilities, the suit states.

As Lucero and Jack LeVick of the Sheriff’s Association were reading the memo, Assistant Attorney General John Wheeler allegedly interrupted the meeting and “snatched” the memo away, and told them the memo was being “sequestered and not released to the public,” according to the suit.

About two months after that meeting, Lucero and the sheriff’s association filed a lawsuit against Los Alamos County and the County Commission over a proposed ordinance that would be placed on the ballot for the 2016 general election to eliminate the sheriff’s office. That didn’t stop the question from being placed on the ballot. The measure failed, with 52 percent of voters rejecting the proposal.

The lawsuit filed Thursday says that last Friday, Lucero, through his attorney, A. Blair Dunn, filed a public records request for “an electronic copy of the opinion from the Office of Attorney General Hector Balderas regarding the Sheriff of Los Alamos County.” On Wednesday, the record custodian replied by saying there were no records responsive to their request, the lawsuit states.

The 2016 lawsuit by Lucero and the sheriff’s association, which according to court records is still pending, claimed the ordinance since rejected by voters was unconstitutional.

The County Commission had argued that the Los Alamos Police Department was capable of handling the duties assigned to the sheriff by state statute. Lucero’s term as sheriff expires at the end of the calendar year.

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