SUPREME COURT DECLINES TO HEAR APPEAL IN SUNSHINE LAW CASE
Albuquerque, N.M. – New Mexicans received an early holiday present this week as the New Mexico Supreme Court declined to review the strong Court of Appeals and District Court decisions in the NMFOG, ABQ Journal and Santa Fe New Mexican v. Corizon Health case enforcing the state’s Sunshine Laws.
The Supreme Court denied a petition for Writ of Certiorari filed by Corizon Health seeking review of September’s New Mexico Court of Appeals decision. That decision upholds First Judicial District Court Judge Raymond Ortiz’s verdict requiring Corizon to turn over requested public records and pay legal fees for violating the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA). The Court of Appeals decision strongly and comprehensively affirmed many important IPRA provisions.
The original lawsuit came about as Corizon refused to release to the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) settlement agreements it made with prisoners who had sued Corizon over alleged malpractice and sexual abuse by a physician. Corizon formerly provided healthcare to inmates in New Mexico’s prisons under a four-year $37 million per year contract with the New Mexico Department of Corrections (DOC).
Then-New Mexican Editor Ray Rivera asked for FOG’s help in getting the settlement documents as the DOC denied the original request. It said the documents were not in its possession, but were held by Corizon. The district court ruled that settlement documents are public records subject to disclosure and that Corizon had to comply with IPRA because it was performing a public function (providing prison medical services) under contract with a state agency. Corizon appealed and withheld the settlements pending the outcome of the appeal.
“Obviously the Supreme Court decided that the Court of Appeals decision in this case did not need further review and accurately stated the law of New Mexico,” Daniel Yohalem, attorney for the plaintiffs said today. “We are pleased with the result and look forward to obtaining the settlement agreements from Corizon as soon as possible.”
“This ruling makes it very clear that third-party government contractors performing a public function on behalf of state, county or local agencies must open their records to public inspection – no exceptions,” Melanie J. Majors, FOG executive director said following the announcement.