NM pays SF Reporter $360K for legal fees

The Roundhouse. (Eddie Moore/Journal file)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The state of New Mexico agreed to pay $360,000 last year to settle a lawsuit filed by the Santa Fe Reporter – a weekly newspaper that had accused then-Gov. Susana Martinez of discrimination and violating the state’s public records law.

The settlement became public last week after the expiration of a six-month confidentiality period imposed by state law.

The agreement comes after the Santa Fe Reporter won a court ruling in 2017 that said the Martinez administration had violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act. The paper had been seeking certain records related to pardons, emails and the governor’s calendar.

The Santa Fe Reporter, however, didn’t prevail on a separate claim. It had also accused the administration of violating the “free press” clause of the state Constitution by illegally denying access to information that was provided to other news outlets.

After her 2017 ruling, then-Judge Pro Tem Sarah Singleton awarded the paper nearly $400,000 in attorney fees the next year, but Martinez subsequently moved to appeal.

The settlement agreement, in any case, calls for the state to pay $360,000 to the Santa Fe Reporter to cover attorney fees and costs. The agreement was reached in June.

The state agreed to drop its appeal.

Julie Ann Grimm, editor and publisher of the Santa Fe Reporter, said the paper never expected it to take so long for the state to pay attorney fees.

“We undertook this litigation because we believe in the public’s right to know,” Grimm said, “and we’re glad that our legal team has been compensated for successfully making that argument in court against the governor.”

The case started with a 2013 lawsuit filed in the state’s 1st Judicial District. Martinez, a Republican, was governor at the time.

Her term expired at the end of 2018, so the recent settlement is actually between the paper and the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat who took office last year.

The agreement says the $360,000 is for attorney fees and costs, not damages, and represents a compromise to avoid further litigation.

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