Judge declines to reopen public records case

CNJ staff

A state district court judge on Tuesday denied a Clovis News Journal request to reconsider a public records case against Curry County ruled on last year.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Joe Parker ruled he had no jurisdiction in the case because the CNJ’s motion to reconsider was not heard within 30 days, as required by law.

CNJ attorneys said they asked the court to hear the motion in a timely fashion but the 30 days passed because of scheduling conflicts related to the holiday season.

Parker further stated that a New Mexico court procedure rule allowing the court to correct an order entered by mistake was inapplicable. Under that rule, a court can reopen a case if the party requesting it shows that it will likely win the case on the merits.

Parker could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Parker stated his reasoning for rejecting the CNJ’s motion to reopen the case so the court record is clear in the event the judge’s rulings are appealed, CNJ attorneys said. In the process, Parker left intact his earlier ruling that the CNJ did not properly name Curry County in its suit papers.

Therefore, Parker reasoned, the CNJ cannot ask the court to answer the legal question at the heart of the CNJ’s lawsuit against the county — whether the county violated the public records law by refusing to release payroll records of county employees. The county produced the records, but only after the newspaper filed its lawsuit.

The CNJ has 30 days from the latest ruling’s signing to appeal. Newspaper officials said they are considering an appeal.

The Clovis newspaper sued Curry County officials last spring. Judge Parker ruled in November that the newspaper styled its lawsuit incorrectly and, since the county had later produced the records in question, the case was moot.

Newspaper attorneys on Tuesday asked the judge to hear the case again after presenting a 2001 Roosevelt County case they believed was similar to the newspaper’s case. In that case, a court had ruled that the city of Portales had styled its case against Roosevelt County incorrectly, but allowed it to amend the action.

Curry County attorney Steve Doerr successfully argued Portales’ case in 2001.

On Tuesday, Doerr said the Roosevelt County case was a zoning issue and irrelevant to the open records lawsuit filed by the newspaper.

Doerr said “the court ruled” and declined to answer questions after the hearing.

CNJ attorney John Bussian called the county’s court tactics “procedural maneuvering,” and said despite Tuesday’s ruling, the paper is making progress.

“The lawsuit was filed to stop the county from delaying access to public records. That’s important,” Bussian said.
“And today, the CNJ was able to argue its position that the county violated the law by turning over public records only when it was forced to do so by the filing of the lawsuit.”

The Clovis News Journal is seeking damages in the amount of $50 per day provided by the public records law, a declaratory judgment, attorneys fees and an injunction to stop the county from withholding public records in the future.