By Daniel Libit
A draft of a legal services agreement between the University of New Mexico and an outside law firm indicates that the school may be looking for changes to the state’s public record laws.
The Nov. 15 engagement letter from the Modrall Sperling law firm reads: “We have been engaged to advise the university in connection with questions concerning compliance and possible amendemtns (sic) to the Inspection of Public Records Act.” (Emphasis added.)
NMFishbowl.com obtained the letter as part of a recent public records request. The attorney who wrote it, Zachary McCormick, did not respond to a request for comment about the scope of his work for the university. In addition to being a litigator, McCormick is part of Modrall Sperling’s government relations practice.
According to the agreement, McCormick will provide his services to UNM at a charge of $350 an hour. It does not specify a completion date for the work.
A UNM spokesperson declined to comment about whether the university was actively lobbying for changes to the New Mexico IPRA law. Nevertheless, the letter itself raises alarm bells for Peter St. Cyr, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
“Rather than spending taxpayer dollars to hire high-priced lawyers to change the law and keep public records secret, officials at the university should spend the money building an online records repository and allow people to search and download the records they need when they need them,” St. Cyr told NMFishbowl.com in a statement.
St. Cyr called on UNM’s incoming president, Garnett S. Stokes, “to lead a cultural transformation on campus and to reset the mindset of stubborn-headed bureaucrats who have resisted public scrutiny for too long.” Stokes is set to replace interim President Chaouki Abdallah on March 1.
Over the last year, university officials have repeatedly bristled at the uptick in records requests made by this website and other media outlets. The school is also a defendant in two pending IPRA lawsuits filed by NMFishbowl.com, which seek records from the University of New Mexico Foundation and Lobo Sports Properties, LLC, a subsidiary of the school’s sports licensing partner, Learfield.
Former UNM Regent Roberta Cooper Ramo is a partner at Modrall Sperling and Damon Martinez, who recently resigned as U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, now serves as the firm’s “of counsel”.
(Featured image by Seney Natural History Association / Flickr)