The University of New Mexico has agreed to settle a lawsuit by paying an independent journalist nearly $30,000 in damages plus attorneys fees, and do a search for the records that had been originally requested.
UNM will be on the hook for about $45,000 total, with most of it going to Daniel Libit, who runs NMfishbowl.com and other news sites. Libit said the terms of the settlement were reached in mediation last year and completed Monday. He provided the Journal a copy of the settlement, which UNM officials didn’t confirm Monday.
The settlement is in response to an Inspection of Public Records Act lawsuit against the university over the way it handled a request for records connected to former Athletics Director Paul Krebs, who has since resigned from UNM and been indicted on felony fraud charges in connection with his time at the university.
“As if UNM needed another lesson about the price of resisting transparency, let this add to that schooling. I intend to plow the entirety of the settlement money into the budget of The Intercollegiate,” Libit said in a statement, referring to a news website about college athletics that he operates. “So, in a delicious paradox, UNM’s obfuscation will now help fund my efforts of illuminating the governance problems with other universities and their athletic departments.”
Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the university, said in a statement that the settlement was in the best interest of the university.
The university, in the settlement documents, said it denied Libit’s allegations but recognized that continued litigation would be “costly, disruptive and time consuming.”
As a condition of the settlement, Libit is barred from bringing additional lawsuits against UNM over his prior records requests, the document says. But the settlement won’t affect Libit’s other pending lawsuits, such as one he has against the UNM Foundation.
The recently settled case concerns several Inspection of Public Records Act requests that Libit made to the university in November 2018. He was seeking copies of communications to and from the university’s legal office and Krebs and his attorney; communications between Krebs’ wife, Marjori Krebs, and the UNM Foundation; and text messages between Marron Lee, a member of the UNM Board of Regents, and Chris Vallejos, a UNM official, about several South Campus projects, according to a copy of the complaint and related documents, which were filed in 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque.
The university denied Libit’s requests, saying they lacked “reasonable particularity.”
Libit challenged the university’s position in his lawsuit, filed in December 2018. The case was scheduled for a trial beginning in February.
It’s not the first time Libit has been successful in challenging the university’s response to an IPRA request. The university agreed to pay Libit $35,000 in legal fees to settle part of a lawsuit he filed after seeking documents related to naming rights at the Pit, the arena where the university’s basketball teams play.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with comment from the University of New Mexico.