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Officials are eyeing Gila River water for southwestern New Mexico.
Laura Paskus

ACLU Defending Former ISC Director

Group says lawsuit by Interstate Commission against Norman Gaume is illegal and retaliatory

January 29, 2015, 9:00 am

The New Mexico chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is coming to the legal defense of an activist who accused the Interstate Stream Commission of violating the Open Meetings Act.

ALCU lawyers argue that the state is trying to chill public participation by going after Norman Gaume.

Gaume, who also formerly served as director of the commission, says the commission didn't grant appropriate notice of or access to its subcommittee meetings on the controversial diversion of the Gila River. He filed a court action against the commission in October and secured a temporary restraining order halting deliberations on the matter. But by November, a different Santa Fe District judge lifted the order, allowing decisions on the project to go forward.

Now the commission says Gaume should have to pay more than $100,000 in damages that they claim were caused by his restraining order. 

The ACLU, however, says the court action he filed and its consequences are "constitutionally protected speech" and is prepared to launch a defense that the state is attempting what's knows as a retaliatory SLAPP suit, for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation—an action the state legislature made illegal in 2001.

“People in our country have a fundamental right to petition their government concerning matters of public importance," attorney Daniel Yohalem* says in the statement. "When the ISC files a lawsuit seeking exorbitant amounts of money in retaliation for the simple act of speaking out, it has a chilling effect on the ability of citizens to participate in public processes.”

Specifically, Gaume alleges that the commission's Subcommittee on the Gila Diversion Project regularly met without giving public notice, publishing agendas or publishing meeting minutes.  

The Gila Diversion Project would divert water from the river for use in other parts of the state. Several environmentalists and concerned residents argue that it would damage wildlife and ecosystem around the river. Gaume has also questioned the science behind estimates of how much water it would produce.

*Full disclosure: Yohalem is separately representing SFR in a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez.


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