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Southern New Mexico rancher Scott Chandler has agreed to settle a defamation lawsuit he filed claiming political consultant Jay McCleskey and a now-defunct political action committee circulated untruthful mailers about him during a 2016 campaign.
McCleskey announced the settlement, and Chandler acknowledged Tuesday that he negotiated the settlement with McCleskey’s insurance company, The Hartford.
But he said McCleskey was “premature” in announcing the settlement before a final agreement is signed, and Chandler receives a check from the insurance company.
“Until we see signatures with Jay, (The) Hartford, and me, it is an active case,” Chandler said in a written statement. “As I said before, till your cattle check clears the bank, it is still not a done deal.”
The settlement agreement was reached just three days after Chandler filed a Nov. 1 motion asking a judge to add former-Gov. Susana Martinez as a defendant in the case. The motion was based on statements McCleskey made in a recent deposition that Martinez was key in setting up the Advance New Mexico Now PAC.
“The court had not yet allowed Chandler to add Governor Martinez to the case” at the time of the Nov. 4 settlement, McCleskey said in a written statement. “Because my insurance company stepped in and settled it, the court will not have to decide on the request to add Governor Martinez.”
Efforts to reach Martinez for comment last week were unsuccessful.
Chandler did not divulge the settlement amount, but he said he will make it public if parties in the case allow him to do so.
“Once we have a release that shows we can state the amount paid, we will,” he said.
Chandler’s 2019 lawsuit alleged that McCleskey and Advance New Mexico Now PAC circulated two mailers about Chandler in an effort to damage his chances of winning a 2016 Republican primary election for House District 32. Chandler lost the primary by 16 votes.
The lawsuit alleged that McCleskey and the PAC mailed fliers during the 2016 primary that asked, “How did a business accused of child abuse and torture AVOID government oversight?” The fliers were mailed to House District 32 voters in Luna, Hidalgo and Grant counties.
The fliers referred to a 2013 New Mexico State Police investigation of Chandler’s Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program in Hillsboro, north of Deming. No criminal charges were filed as a result of the investigation.
Chandler has received legal settlements approaching $1 million from the state related to the investigation. The defamation suit against McCleskey also alleges that McCleskey advised then-Gov. Martinez to execute the State Police search of Chandler’s ranch in October 2013.
Chandler asked a 6th Judicial District Court judge on Nov. 1 to add Martinez to the suit, alleging McCleskey recently implicated the former governor as a key player in the PAC who “directly authorized the mailing of the fliers.”
McCleskey made the comments during an Aug. 10 deposition in a related lawsuit McCleskey filed against his insurance company. In that suit, McCleskey alleged that the company refused to pay his legal costs in the Chandler lawsuit.
In his deposition, McCleskey said Martinez was involved in setting up and operating the PAC, which is no longer active, the motion states.
“Governor Martinez was involved in the running of the PAC, including decisions about proposed budgets, proposed targets and proposed districts,” the motion states. “She was involved in polling meetings and was presented with polling information.”
The motion states that McCleskey described Martinez’s role in the PAC. According to the motion, McCleskey said that:
■ Martinez authorized him to say on behalf of the PAC that Chandler wasn’t a good candidate for the general election in House District 32.
■ Martinez approved the contents of the fliers targeting Chandler.
■ Martinez was “the primary one” who authorized the PAC to distribute the fliers and was consulted throughout the process.
■ He identified himself and Martinez as the two people most directly involved in approving the mailer.
McCleskey is a prominent GOP consultant who helped Martinez twice win the governor’s race and served as an adviser in her administration.