Judge rules against APS in IPRA lawsuit fines school district $400,000

Second Judicial District Court Judge Nancy Franchini has determined the Albuquerque Public School District (APS) failed to turn over public records in a timely manner and did not adhere to statutory deadlines in its response to requests for documents related to former Superintendent Winston Books’ departure. The Judge has ordered APS to pay more than $400,000 to the plaintiffs in the case, the Albuquerque Journal and KOB TV 4 News, for failing to turn over the public records.

The judge awarded the Journal $293,625 after finding the school district violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act in its handling of requests made by the newspaper in 2014. KOB-TV, which made similar requests, was awarded $118,000.

“Public records laws ensure transparency and accountability. A school district cannot pick and choose when to obey the law, especially when it’s writing six-figure checks to outgoing personnel,” said KOB General Manager Michelle Donaldson.  “People cannot have faith in the system when the laws are ignored. It’s regrettable that it took so many years for a public school district to get the message that the public deserves transparency and honesty. We are grateful the judge delivered that message.”

“We are pleased with this decision,” Karen Moses, Albuquerque Journal editor, said. “With this ruling, the court has sent a clear message of the importance of public bodies following the Inspection of Public Records Act. Noncompliance of the state’s open records law has been a longstanding issue with APS. And when public bodies fail to follow the requirements for timely production of public records, the community is deprived of information that it is entitled to under the letter of the law.”

Moses said the Journal intends to appeal the court’s ruling that the investigative report APS commissioned prior to then-Superintendent Brook’s departure is protected in its entirety from disclosure to the public. She said the Journal believes much of the report was factual information, which should be public, rather then protected opinion in a personnel file. That factual information was used to determine that Brooks would be paid $350,000 in tax dollars as a buyout.

The case is No. D-202-CV-2015-00620 ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL and KOB-TV, LLC, Plaintiffs, vs. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF ALBUQUERQUE PUBLIC SCHOOLS and RIGO CHAVEZ, in his capacity as custodian of
Records for Board of Education for Albuquerque Public Schools, Defendants.