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City fined $100K for purposely violating open records law

A state court judge has fined the city of Albuquerque more than $100,000 for willfully refusing to comply with the state's Inspections of Public Records Act.

The refusal to comply with the IPRA law came under the administration of former Mayor Richard Berry and involved a public records request from the city's former records custodian, Reynaldo Chavez.

The city fired Chavez in mid-2015 and he filed an IPRA request relating to his termination shortly after that. But then the city's then-acting records custodian, Javier Urban, decided on his own not to give Chavez all the records he had requested.

(Photo: Tom Grover)

In fact, Chavez still hasn't received all the records he asked for in 2015. As a result, Judge Beatrice Brickhouse said the city is liable for damages of $100 a day from June 1, 2015 until all the records are produced. Brickhouse also said the city will have to pay Chavez's legal fees in the case.

Chavez's attorney, Tom Grover, said that as of today, the fine against the city is $102,800. He added that he still hadn't calculated the amount of his legal fees.

Brickhouse levied the fines in a March 21 order in which she said the previous administration deliberately tired to obstruct the IPRA law.

“This was a willful refusal by Respondent [the city] to comply with its obligation under the IPRA,” Brickhouse's order said. “The court considered whether a lesser amount should be awarded and found no reason, much less a compelling reason, to award a lesser amount.”

Grover said the fine against the city “is confirmation that at least the past administration engaged in willful violation of the state's transparency laws.”

And Grover added that some of the people who purposely tried to obstruct the state's IPRA law are still working for the city.

“My question is where is the accountability upon people who knew about this willful conduct and who argued otherwise, and who were protected from being responsible?" Grover said. Because it seems like Mayor Keller is being set up for failure,” Grover said. “Some of those people who engaged in willful violation of IPRA are still there, and people who were witnesses to it are still there.”

Grover added that when his client finally gets all the information he had asked the city for – emails and texts from former top city officials – there could be new revelations about how members of Berry's administration purposely violated the IPRA law.

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