Thursday, September 20, 2007
Albuquerque Man Wins Fight To Get Property Records
A state district judge on Thursday ruled that certain property records are public records, handing a victory to an Albuquerque man who uses them in his work with a title company and as a private investigator.
Eric Griego sued in April 2006, contending the state was violating the state Inspection of Public Records Act by maintaining that documents such as deeds, liens and mortgage information were confidential.
"What I've seen here is just research ... into public records, nothing that is protected,'' Judge Valerie Huling said.
Griego and attorneys for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which joined the case, praised the decision.
"We thought they were public all along,'' said Michael Danoff, an attorney for Griego.
Lawyers for the state disagreed and said they were considering their next move.
Griego had been obtaining copies of various property records for his work since the early 1980s.
But in 2002, the Taxation and Revenue Department started delaying or ignoring his requests, he said. Then in 2005, he said, the department began denying his requests for information it collects related to properties with delinquent taxes.
He sued in state court for property-related documents from counties across New Mexico. The documents managed by the department's delinquent property tax bureau include deeds and liens.
Griego uses the information, for example, to recover money from the sale of delinquent properties for heirs of the former owners. They are entitled to the difference between the delinquent taxes and the amount the property sold for. Otherwise the money would go to the state.
Griego also sought $100 for everyday he didn't get the records. A hearing on damages has not been set.
Pat Rogers, an attorney for the Foundation for Open Government, said other people from title search companies are receiving the documents Griego wanted and that he received them in the past.
"These are documents we believe clearly are public, before, during and after possession by the Taxation and Revenue Department,'' he said.
Carolyn Wolf, chief counsel for the department, contended the agency was simply following state statute.
"The information they receive from taxpayers and the information they receive in the examination of property is confidential,'' she said.
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