County officials ask for dismissal of CNJ lawsuit

By Jack King: CNJ STAFF WRITER

Curry County officials have filed two motions asking the court to dismiss the Clovis News Journal’s lawsuit against the county. The motions claim procedural errors were made when the newspaper asked for information about county employees’ wages and benefits.
News Journal attorney Max Best said the issues covered in the county’s motions are procedural and don’t go to the heart of the case against the county.
“We (still) believe the county violated the Public Records Act,” Best said.
A notice that the lawsuit has been reassigned from 9th Judicial District Judge Stephen K. Quinn to Judge Joe Parker also was filed on Wednesday.
Best said, under the law, the county has the right to request a judge be recused from a case.
County Attorney Stephen Doerr declined comment Thursday on any of his motions.
The newspaper’s lawsuit, filed March 15, requested the county provide employees’ salary and benefits records in connection with a wage and benefits study of several governmental entities in the area. A few days later the county released documents from which employees’ wage and benefits information could be extracted.
Despite the release of the information, Best said back then that the full range of issues between the paper and the county government has not been settled.
“We’d like to get this issue resolved formally, with a formal, stipulated judgment,” he said in March, “where the (county) commission agrees in writing that the type of record we’ve requested is a public document. In addition, we will seek attorneys fees, as allowed under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.”
County officials, in their motions to dismiss, contend:
n The newspaper should have sued the county’s board of commissioners and not “Curry County, New Mexico.”
n The paper’s lawsuit failed to state the specific public record being requested.
County officials also claim the records the county provided to the newspaper on March 18 were prepared March 15 and “were to be delivered to the Plaintiff on March 16, 2004.” Under state statute, the county had 15 days after the News Journal’s March 4 request to provide the records, county officials claim.
On Feb. 26, the News Journal sent a letter to Doerr requesting the name, position, salary and benefits of every person who works for the county.
In a March 1 letter, Doerr replied, “There is no document setting forth the name, position, salary and benefits of every person who works for Curry County. Therefore, there is nothing that can be produced to you under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act.”
The newspaper sent Doerr a second letter on March 4 stating, “This is to request the records, in whatever form they exist, reflecting the name, position, salary, and benefits paid to every person who was employed in Curry County in 2003. If you contend that any information contained in these records is exempt from disclosure, please redact that information.”
In a March 9 reply, Doerr wrote, “There are no documents that exist that can be produced to meet your request. I have been assured by several employees that they could create reports, printouts or documents for you, but … As you are aware, the New Mexico Public Records Act does not require that any new document be created.”