New Mexico’s Taxation and Revenue Department spent at least $31,000 on outside attorneys for a public-records lawsuit against it, and thousands more on in-house attorneys, reports the Sante Fe New Mexican. The state last month announced it was settling the lawsuit filed by Albuquerque private investigator Eric Griego, who claimed the state was illegally withholding documents he uses in his business. As part of the settlement, the state will pay Griego $117,500. In addition, it will pay the lawyers’ fees for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which total $25,970.
The case centers on Griego’s requests for access to information managed by the department’s Delinquent Property Tax Bureau, including deeds and liens. Griego sued the state in April 2006, saying the department started delaying or ignoring his requests for information relating to properties with delinquent taxes starting in 2002. In 2005, he says, the department began denying his requests for information – the same information he had been obtaining since the early 1980s. The department maintained the documents were not public; Griego and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government said they were. And in a ruling last fall, District Judge Valerie Huling agreed. The settlement amount is the largest in a public-records case in New Mexico.