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County responds to civil rights suit

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By Tris DeRoma

Los Alamos County attorneys filed a motion in federal court June 29 to dismiss a civil rights suit filed by a former resident and political candidate in May.

Attorneys for the county claimed the plaintiffs in the suit do not have enough evidence to back up their claims against the county that the county violated their civil and First Amendment rights.

Plaintiff Patrick Brenner, a candidate for county council in 2016, claims in the lawsuit that he was harassed by some members of county council for not supporting a county-wide bond election. His mother, Lisa Brenner is also a plaintiff in the suit.

In the suit, Brenners’ lawyer, A. Blair Dunn,  said  former Councilor James Chrobocinski pressured Patrick Brenner, allegedly saying he would undermine his candidacy for council if he didn’t support the bond, which Chrobocinski and another council member, Susan O’Leary, were promoting through their political action committee, Los Alamos Futures.

Patrick Brenner said things came to a head when he learned from the media that an email he sent to council expressing his dissent to council over the recreation bond issue was going to be made public.

Patrick Brenner said he took issue with the leak, making an Inspection of Public Records Act request to the Los Alamos County’s Custodian of Records in an effort to determine who leaked it to the press. He determined it was O’Leary, who sent the letter on to Chrobocinski, who then sent a letter expressing his concerns about the letter to Los Alamos County

Police Chief Dino Sgambellone. By his own admittance, Patrick Brenner said the letter was harsh in tone and language and publicly apologized for it. Chrobocinksi, concerned by the letter’s threatening and personal tone, forwarded it to Los Alamos Police Chief Dino Sgambellone.

Dunn, in the lawsuit, said that even though some may have thought the letter was exceedingly aggressive in tone, he was within his first amendment rights.

 “Defendants Los Alamos County and Chrobocinski caused communications by Patrick Brenner to be released outside of adopted procedures and contrary to law, for political purposes and/or to chill Plaintiffs’ rights,” Dunn said in the lawsuit.

Dunn also said the leak was done with county approval.

“The retaliation against Plaintiff Brenner as alleged above is in contravention of the First Amendment and was committed directly by policymakers of the Los Alamos County; dictated by such policymakers or such subordinates’, actions were approved by those with policy making authority for the Los Alamos County,” Dunn said in the suit. “Therefore, the identified retaliation was done pursuant to governmental policy.”

The county’s motion to dismiss denies both allegations.

The county’s attorney, Tony Ortiz, said in the counter motion that Patrick Brenner’s problems were caused by himself “in whole or in part by themselves or a third party and therefore are not attributable to the defendants.”

Ortiz also claims that Patrick Brenner’s lawsuit fails “to meet the requirements for a violation of the first amendment.”

Dunn responded Tuesday to the court, saying that they plan to respond to the county’s claim before July 27.