More than three years after coming to SFR with allegations of fraud and more than one year after suing the state Department of Health on alleged whistleblower violations, Bob Ortiz is not heading to court after all.
A lawyer for the state Department of Health confirmed to SFR attorney Charles "Kip" Purcell that she was no longer seeking SFR's notes requested this month in a subpoena served to staff writer Joey Peters. She also confirmed that the case involving Ortiz, a former DOH employee who alleged fraud at the agency, was over.
"The above case settled this week so I will no longer be pursuing the information I sought through the subpoena," attorney Jennifer Hall wrote to Purcell on Oct. 18.
Hall sent a subpoena to SFR on Oct. 7 asking for all of Peters' notes and written communications "pertaining to any conversations" he's had with Ortiz since 2009. The next week, SFR filed a formal objection to the subpoena, citing protection of the press under state law. Both the Rio Grande chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Mexico Press Association issued strongly-worded statements condemning the state's actions against SFR.
SFR first reported on Ortiz' fraud allegations in a January 2010 cover story. Over the next three years, SFR published several follow-up stories.
Ortiz claimed that DOH management had instructed him to make a fraudulent $1.7 million accounting transaction. Over the next two years, he alleged that state government retaliated against him for bringing his allegations to the media. DOH soon put him on paid administrative leave for six months and eventually fired him, in part for "irresponsible communication with the media."
Ortiz sued the agency last summer for alleged violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act and the state Inspection of Public Records Act. Ortiz' attorney Diane Garrity would not comment on the settlement with the state.
At least two former DOH employees have successfully sued the agency recently. In both cases, the state awarded them hefty payouts.
Last year, the state settled with former employee Diane Moore for $225,000 on her lawsuit alleging retaliation and whistleblower violations. In August, the state settled with former employee Jennifer Smith for more than $165,000 in a similar lawsuit.