After months of unsuccessful efforts to inspect public records and gain access to information about governance in New Mexico, Santa Fe Reporter filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Gov. Susana Martinez.
Attorneys for the Reporter filed the complaint (PDF) in Santa Fe’s First Judicial District alleging that the governor has seven times violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act and has circumvented the state Constitution’s “free press” provision by engaging in a campaign of retaliation.
Instead of providing her perspective on important issues, Martinez refused to respond to inquiries about from the Santa Fe Reporter because she didn’t like the tone of the newspaper’s coverage, an unlawful act called “viewpoint discrimination” or “prior restraint.”
“The consequence of this type of prior restraint of the press, or censorship, is the public’s ignorance of public affairs imposed by Defendant’s selective withholding of information,” the complaint reads.
New Mexico’s open-records act (IPRA) is in place to guarantee government transparency, as the complaint notes, “and is a critical safeguard against government deception and abuse of power.” Violation of that law is not permissible at any level, and certainly not by the highest elected office in the state.
The litigation stems from efforts by staff writers and an editor at the Santa Fe Reporter since late 2011 to look at documents about topics as diverse as gubernatorial pardons, legislative confirmation of a cabinet secretary and e-mail communications that discuss the public’s business in private. Repeated denials and delays from the governor’s office left the newspaper with no choice but to seek a court order.
“The Inspection of Public Records Act has sharp enforcement teeth, but only if requestors pursue court action,” says SFR Editor Julie Ann Grimm. “We’ve filed this case because the Office of the Governor has repeatedly failed to comply with the state law. We can’t just sit back and wait to see what happens next. We hope the courts will remind the governor and all government officials that transparency is more than a buzz word. It matters. State law matters.”
“Our public record requests have been part of legitimate news gathering efforts. It’s unfortunate that we have to file suit to make the public’s business public, but the Governor has left us little choice,” says Mark Zusman, an owner of City of Roses.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at (505)690-5361. Contact Mark Zusman at (503) 243-2122.
See Also: “You’ve Been Served: SFR court case alleges governor violated IPRA, state constitution,” by Justin Horwath and Joey Peters, Santa Fe Reporter