AG: Work OMI does for feds is public record - Albuquerque Journal

AG: Work OMI does for feds is public record

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The state Attorney General’s Office says records related to contract work done by a state-run office for a federal agency are public documents subject to inspection under the state’s open records law.

According to the written opinion issued earlier this month, in January 2019 a reporter from the Rio Grande Sun newspaper in Española sent the state Office of the Medical Investigator a records request for autopsy reports it did on a contractual basis for the Jicarilla Apache Nation, Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies from Jan. 1, 2017, to Jan. 15, 2019.

OMI denied the request, saying the reports “were not public record because they were paid for by either the Jicarilla Apache Nation or a federal agency.” Robert Trapp, the Rio Grande Sun’s publisher, filed a complaint with the AG’s Office in April 2019.

The AG’s Office determined that autopsy reports OMI does for a tribal entity or the federal government are subject to IPRA because the work is still carried out in part using state funds and resources.

“To then simultaneously conclude that the work OMI … does pursuant to those contracts and agreements is not its public business and therefore beyond the realm of the public’s right to inspect would be at least somewhat contradictory,” Assistant Attorney General John Kreienkamp wrote. “And, were we to reach that conclusion, it would seemingly allow all other government agencies to perform contractual services (either for other government entities or private ones) and then decline to provide any information about those services to the public on the basis of a narrow interpretation of ‘public business.’ ”

While the opinion isn’t legally binding, the AG’s Office says the OMI has pledged to take remedial action.

“We appreciate the Attorney General providing us much of the clarification we asked for and agreeing with our determination of how these types of records should be handled in the future,” the OMI said in a statement, adding that it has already provided the requested information. “(The OMI) is committed to transparency and works diligently to ensure we are providing appropriate documents to requestors.”

Matt Baca, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said the IPRA complaint process is used to make an informal determination as to whether a state agency violated IPRA.

“If our determination is that a public body has not complied with the law, then it’s our expectation that they will fully comply once we’ve reached that conclusion,” Baca said. “If the parties need to take it outside of that informal process and end up in court, the judge will at that point make a determination.”

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