Judge sides with sheriff’s IPRA claim

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By Tris DeRoma

First Judicial District Court David K. Thomson rejected a summary judgment Tuesday for New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. Balderas and his office are defendants in a lawsuit filed by Los Alamos County Sheriff Marco Lucero.

Lucero filed his lawsuit in January, claiming the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General violated New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act by failing to give him an official legal opinion Lucero claims the office prepared back in 2016. Lucero said the alleged opinion was in the form of a memorandum from then Assistant Attorney General Peter Auh.

“At the August 2016 meeting, Mr. Auh presented what he described as a final version of a memorandum he had prepared concerning the opinion or evaluation of the attorney general’s office regarding the dispute over the legal responsibilities of the elected sheriff in Los Alamos County,” Lucero’s attorney, A. Blair Dunn said in the lawsuit. 

Lucero and then executive director for the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association Jack LeVick were allowed to read the alleged memorandum, but not allowed to take a copy with them. 

“…Before the meeting was concluded, it was interrupted by Assistant Attorney General John Wheeler who snatched back the memorandum and stated that the opinion was going to be sequestered and not released to the public,” Dunn said in the lawsuit. 

The State of New Mexico Office of the Attorney General officials said Lucero made an “incorrect assumption” that there was no official legal opinion. 

“The OAG has no responsive records to produce and never issued the opinion requested,” Assistant Attorney General Dylan K. Lange said in the Office of the Attorney General’s request for summary judgment.

Lange’s request for summary judgment went on to say that the Office of the Attorney General’s Office fully complied with Lucero’s inspection of public records request. 

“The plaintiff does not allege any further communication with the OAG regarding clarification of his request, nor any alleged knowledge of responsive records, nor a demand for the production of documents prior to filing his complaint for declaratory judgment,” Lange said.

Dunn said it comes down to definition.

“Marco’s request was for records of the attorney general’s opinions on the sheriff issue in Los Alamos,” Dunn said. “The attorney general’s office wanted to play the word game and say, well, we haven’t ‘issued’ an opinion on the subject. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an opinion or that there isn’t documents that discuss the attorney general office’s opinion.”

Dunn said he also made it clear in court Wednesday that he was not looking for an official opinion from the attorney general’s officers.

“Very clearly we’re just asking for what their general opinion is, not their official opinion,” Dunn said.

Dunn said their next step is to get a deposition from the office of the attorney general’s custodian of records, Patricia Salazar. 

“When it (the deposition) shows she didn’t perform an adequate search, then they will have violated IPRA (Inspection of Public Records Act) and we will get the document we asked for, plus they are going to end up paying for it,” Dunn said. 

James Hallinan, communications director for the Office of the Attorney General, accused Dunn of wasting the time and resources of the Office of the Attorney General and taxpayer money as he builds a political career. 

Dunn is the New Mexico Libertarian Party’s candidate for attorney general.

“I’m so confused, I thought your hearing today before the Honorable Judge Thomson was to represent Sheriff Lucero, your client, not to make a campaign video for your campaign for Attorney General,” Hallinan tweeted Wednesday. 

Dunn, in turn accused Hallinan of campaigning for Balderas on state time, which may be a violation of campaign laws. Dunn noted that on some of Hallinan’s  tweets to Dunn, he tagged the Office of the Attorney General. 

“If James is using his state time to engage in campaign activities, then there may be a Hatch Act problem,” Dunn said.

Hallinan called Dunn “reckless,” and also said that he was tweeting from his personal Twitter account about Dunn’s activities, and that his personal tweets were done well outside of working hours.

“Whether we are prosecuting accused cop killers, arresting child rapists, or convicting corrupt politicians, Office of the Attorney General personnel adhere to the strictest standards of ethical conduct,” Hallinan said. “Despite being sanctioned for his reckless actions, A. Blair Dunn continues to file wasteful, frivolous lawsuits in a desperate struggle to build a political resume.”