The City of Española will pay over $40,000 for failing to provide public records to Charles Arasim, First Judicial District Court Judge Jason Lidyard ruled during a May 9 hearing.
Lidyard decided in Arasim’s favor in February when he determined the city government violated the Inspection of Public Records Act in three ways by failing to produce a video and memorandum requested by Arasim in October 2017.
The final documents, in an un-redacted form, were not produced until after Arasim went to court to get a writ of mandamus
Even then, city officials provided only a redacted version of the memorandum, which detailed behaviors in the requested video. The city government, through its attorneys at Robles Rael & Anaya, failed to provide written details concerning the redaction.
Lidyard found that the city government failed to comply with the law for a total of 406 days.
Associate Attorney Samuel Chris DeFillippo of Robels Rael & Anaya argued that the firm had produced a redacted version of the memorandum, and therefore should only be considered to have been out of compliance for roughly 100 days, but Lidyard disagreed, citing the lack of a written reason for the redactions.
“The obligation is on the custodian to provide the explanation (for redaction),” Lidyard said.
Lidyard held the city liable for all of Arasim’s attorney’s fees, which totaled $22,575.42. He also ordered the City to pay $238.97 in additional costs to Arasim.
Thomas Grover, the Albuquerque-based attorney representing Arasim, said he was pleased with the court’s ruling in the case.
Lidyard also ruled that the City will pay fees of $50 per day for each of the 406 days it failed to produce the records in accordance with the law.
“There was willful disregard of the obligation to produce public documents that were known at the time,” Lidyard said.
When evaluating the statutory award, Lidyard said the content of the records were a factor.
According to a previous Rio Grande SUN story, the officers were allegedly talking about sex and ignoring dispatchers, who were trying to send them to calls for service. They ignored the calls for so long, they started to stack up, creating a backlog.
“(The records show) interactions amongst our trusted law enforcement officers exhibiting signs of racism and sexism that is particularly egregious and of high concern to the public, which is exactly the type of information that the public deserves to know: that its law enforcement officers are holding these types of beliefs and are willing to behave in a manner that exhibits this type of inappropriate behavior,” Lidyard said.
Lidyard awarded damages of $50 per day, half of the maximum $100 per day fees allowed under the law.
Grover and Arasim said they were pleased with the award, but neither expect anything to change the way the city government complies with public records laws anytime soon, although Arasim said he hoped it would.
“Based off of my experience with the city of Española and it’s Police Department, I see no evidence whatsoever of any change in behavior to become in accordance with the standards that Judge Lidyard preferred,” Grover said. “Which is, we want our public servants, like police officers, to be models of behavior and conduct, and not sexism and racism, and that means following the law.”
In all, Lidyard ordered the city government to pay a total of $43,114.61 for failing to comply with public records laws. The cost comes in addition to any money the city paid to its attorneys in the matter.
City officials are likely to file an insurance claim to help pay the costs of the suit but as of press time, it was unclear how much of the bill could be covered by insurance.
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