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Lawsuit asks release of inmates’ medical settlements

SANTA FE – Two newspapers and an open-government advocacy group are asking a court to order the release of settlements reached with inmates who sued the company that formerly provided medical services in state prisons.

The lawsuit was filed in state District Court by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican.

They contend Corizon Health has failed to comply with the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.

More than 75 inmates have alleged in lawsuits that they were sexually assaulted by a physician during medical examinations at two prisons. Many of the lawsuits have been settled.

The open-government group and the newspapers filed separate requests with Corizon for settlement documents. The firm on June 28 provided a spreadsheet showing settlement amounts for each claim filed by 59 inmates – totaling nearly $4.6 million – and the prison involved. But Corizon said it needed more time to redact prisoners’ names and identifying information before releasing the settlement documents.

Two days later, according to the lawsuit, Corizon reversed its position and refused to produce any of the settlements. The company said it wasn’t required to do so under IPRA, and that its confidentiality agreements with the prisoners who settled prohibited disclosure of the information.

The newspapers and FOG argue that the public records law applies to Corizon, which was paid $37.5 million a year to provide medical services at 10 prisons.

“We believe it’s important that the same standards of public accountability should apply when government outsources essential functions to private contractors,” Journal Editor Kent Walz said in a statement. IPRA, he said, “is an important tool to ensure that accountability.”

The plaintiffs said in the lawsuit filed Monday they don’t object to the redaction of the names of plaintiffs who sued using pseudonyms to protect their privacy.

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