ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico is paying $35,000 to settle an independent journalist’s claims that it violated the state’s public records law, though the university’s chief fundraising agency continues fighting the same lawsuit.
The University of New Mexico is paying $35,000 to settle an independent journalist’s claims that it violated the state’s public records law, though the university’s chief fundraising agency continues fighting the same lawsuit.
Daniel Libit, who runs the watchdog website NMFishbowl.com, sued UNM and the University of New Mexico Foundation in 2017, alleging violations of the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act. Both had denied Libit’s requests for documents related to WisePies Pizza and Salad’s now-defunct naming rights agreement for the Pit. UNM said it did not have the records and referred Libit to the foundation; the foundation said it is a private nonprofit separate from the university, so the public records law did not apply.
Libit won summary judgment against the foundation in May, when state District Judge Nancy Franchini ruled that the UNMF fundraises on the university’s behalf and corresponding records are subject to IPRA. The foundation has appealed, and the case is still pending.
But Libit resolved what he called the “secondary” component of the lawsuit by settling his claims against UNM. The university agreed to pay $35,000 in legal fees to Libit’s attorneys at the Albuquerque firm Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias and Ward. The agreement stipulates that neither party admits to violating any laws.
“We believed it was in the best interest of the university to settle,” university spokeswoman Cinnamon Blair said in a written statement.
Libit, who signed the settlement in September, posted it to his website Tuesday.
“In the course of settlement negotiations, UNM had submitted a ‘final offer’ of substantially less money, but relented after I threatened to seek personal damages in the case,” he wrote. “Presently, the only monetary compensation I am seeking is the reimbursement of my attorneys’ billings.”
In an interview Tuesday, Libit questioned the university’s priorities, comparing the $35,000 settlement to the $46,696 annual salary for a paralegal in UNM’s public records office.
“They’re so dogmatic about how few resources they either should spend or either can spend on public records matters that I think it’s important for people to realize where they will expend those resources, and that is to fight transparency,” Libit said.
Though he would not give an exact amount, he said his total legal fees have topped “six figures,” and that the foundation might have to cover what UNM did not should Franchini’s ruling stand on appeal.
Statute requires agencies who lose IPRA lawsuits to pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.