SANTA FE – Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office is declining to release the records of a New Mexico Senate ethics investigation into former Sen. Phil Griego, claiming the documents are confidential law enforcement records.
The Journal had requested the ethics probe records earlier this week under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, after a district judge had ordered the Legislative Council Service to hand them over to the AG’s Office.
In denying the request, Patricia Salazar of the Open Government Division of the Attorney General’s Office said the records – there are 92 of them – contain “confidential law enforcement records received or compiled in connection with a criminal investigation or prosecution.”
Law enforcement records that reveal confidential sources, methods or information can be withheld under the state’s open records law, as one of several allowable exceptions.
“The law enforcement exception has been validly used because criminal evidence must be preserved to protect the integrity of an active investigation and prosecution,” AG’s office spokesman James Hallinan said.
However, Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said that the exception is not meant to be broadly construed and that the AG’s Office has demonstrated a pattern of withholding all documents related to its investigations.
“I guess it’s not surprising, but it is troubling,” Boe said Thursday of the decision not to publicly release the ethics probe records.
The records in question include the original ethics complaint against Griego and some correspondence about the investigation’s findings. The documents have long been off-limits to the public, as formal complaints against New Mexico elected officials are reviewed and investigated confidentially in a closed-door process. Proposals to change the system have failed repeatedly in recent legislative sessions.
Balderas has previously blasted the Legislature’s attempt to fight a subpoena for the ethics investigation records and for asking a judge to excuse state lawmakers and legislative staffers from having to testify in the criminal case against Griego.
Specifically, he said the Legislative Council Service’s legal stance on lawmakers testifying “sacrifices justice on an altar of secrecy.”
Griego, a Democrat from San Miguel County, is accused of using his position as a legislator to make money in the sale of a historic state building in downtown Santa Fe. He resigned from the Senate in March 2015 instead of facing possible discipline as a result of the ethics investigation into his role in the building sale.
The AG’s Office filed bribery, perjury and other criminal charges against Griego in February, and the preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled to start next week. Griego has pleaded not guilty to the charges; he could face up to 28 years in prison and more than $40,000 in fines if convicted of all counts.