An alternative newsweekly filed suit against New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) on Tuesday for allegedly violating the state’s public record law in retaliation for unfavorable coverage.
The Santa Fe Reporter reported on Tuesday that the suit, filed in state district court, argues that Martinez’s administration has stonewalled public records requests from the newspaper seven times between December 2011 and June 2013, in violation of the state Inspection of Public Records Act. Martinez’s office now has 30 days to respond to the complaint.
“Enough is enough, and flagrant violations of the state law can’t be tolerated by the highest elected official in the state,” Reporter editor Julie Ann Grimm told The Raw Story in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “That’s the reason why we’re doing this.”
Mark Zusman, owner of City of Roses Publishing, which publishes the Reporter, told The Raw Story that what makes Martinez’s actions ironic is that she ran on a platform of transparency in government.
“She made this a centerpiece of her campaign for governor,” he said in a separate phone interview. “So it’s doubly puzzling that she has decided that the public’s business is not public. At a certain point, we realized we were gonna have to deal with a judicial body in order to get any sort of satisfaction.”
The lawsuit also contends that Martinez’s actions stem from a desire to “punish” the Reporter for reporting on her administration’s habit of using private email accounts to conduct state business.
In a September 2012 story, the Reporter quoted Martinez’s chief of staff, Keith Gardner, admitting as much in a recorded phone call, a story that earned it an award from the state Foundation for Open Government.
“I never email on my state email anything that can come back to bite my ass,” Gardner says in the phone call. “It’s all done offline. I never — sh*t, I never use my state email because it is all done on different stuff, ’cause I don’t want to go to court or jail.”
Grimm told The Raw Story that besides the lack of action on records requests, Martinez’s office has regularly refused to respond to interview requests for comment by the Reporter, a practice the complaint describes as “viewpoint discrimination,” which violates its First Amendment rights.
In a June 2013 incident mentioned in the complaint, Martinez responded to a phone inquiry from the Reporter by referring all questions to a spokesperson. When told that the spokesperson was not responding to phone calls from the publication, the complaint states Martinez “sarcastically responded, ‘I wonder why.'”
“That was a pretty clear statement that she had no interest in working with reporters,” Zusman said. “It speaks a little as to her state of mind.”
Grimm also suggested that Martinez’s administration also abused a state provision requiring government agencies to state when they would comply with records requests within 15 days of being contacted, saying officials would set an initial compliance date close to the deadline, then file separate messages causing the deadline to roll over indefinitely.
“We don’t think that that’s an acceptable method of responding,” Grimm said. “It just seems to be an unreasonable delay.”
Read the Reporter’s complaint, posted online by the New Mexico Telegram on Tuesday, below.
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