By Daniel Libit
The University of New Mexico continues to run up a tab for its anti-transparency past.
As part of a recent settlement agreement, the school has agreed to pay $35,000 of my legal fees in order to be dismissed as a defendant in a public records lawsuit I filed against the UNM Foundation.
You can read the full agreement here.
In May, Judge Nancy Franchini ruled in favor of my lawsuit, which contends that the UNM Foundation should be subject to the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, even though it is established as a separate, non-profit organization. The Foundation, which is not a part of the settlement, is appealing Franchini’s ruling.
The suit was filed last year after the Foundation refused to turn over financial records and internal emails related to the WisePies naming-rights agreement for University Arena.
The University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents was named as a co-defendant, since it is the body that established and has ultimate control over the UNM Foundation. The lawsuit alleges that the Foundation “is an arm” of the University, as codified in a Memorandum of Agreement between the two entities.
Since UNM was not the principal party of the action, it is paying only a fraction of my legal fees. The Foundation could be responsible for paying the rest of the bill, if Franchini’s ruling stands on appeal.
According to the New Mexico IPRA statute, “The court shall award damages, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to any person whose written request has been denied and is successful in a court action to enforce the provisions of the Inspection of Public Records Act.”
In the course of settlement negotiations, UNM had submitted a “final offer” of substantially less money, but relented after I threatened to seek personal damages in the case. Presently, the only monetary compensation I am seeking is the reimbursement of my attorneys’ billings.
For a useful point of comparison, the $35,000 UNM is coughing up to settle out of the case is about three-quarters of what the school currently pays its public records paralegal in annual salary ($46,696).
Despite Franchini’s ruling, the UNM Foundation has continued to reject recent IPRA requests, as has the UNM Lobo Club, another supposedly separate non-profit organization that operates under the university’s aegis.
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