The longest-running political drama of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez' administration hasn't halted with the recent guilty plea of her former campaign manager Jamie Estrada for intercepting one of her campaign emails then lying to the FBI about it.
Four New Mexico citizens filed a federal lawsuit against Martinez' political foes on Friday. The lawsuit stems from the alleged involvement of Estrada and four others in the disclosure of the plaintiffs' emails.
Estrada and the other well-known New Mexico politicos "illegally and surreptitiously hijacked, intercepted, stole, accessed, disclosed, and used plaintiffs' private and confidential email communications," alleges the lawsuit filed in US District Court.
Defendants in the lawsuit include New Mexico Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman; former head of a liberal political action committee Michael Corwin; former Martinez campaign staffer Anissa Ford; and Estrada, who is awaiting sentencing on the federal charges, for which he faces up to a year behind bars.
The complaint heavily relies on Estrada's guilty plea and search warrant affidavits filed in his criminal case. It alleges that those documents show the five defendants "conspired together to continue the ongoing unlawful email interceptions in order to use and disclose the stolen emails."
Mark Braden, one of four attorneys representing the plaintiffs, tells SFR they might name additional defendants as the lawsuit enters the discovery phase.
"We will have an opportunity to depose the defendants in the case and possibly other folks," he says.
Braden is an attorney based out of the Washington DC office of Baker Hostetler. Prior to joining the firm he was the general counsel for the Republican National Committee.
He says the lawsuit is not about politics but about privacy violations. He says attorneys representing the plaintiffs also received a call from someone wanting to join the lawsuit who was "ripping mad about having their private communications publicly disseminated by these individuals."
Eric Packel, out of Philadelphia, and Theodor Kobus III, based in New York City, are representing the plaintiffs on behalf of Baker Hostetler too.
Angelo Artuso, based in Albuquerque, is also representing the plaintiffs.
Crystal Amaya, Brad Cates, Brian Moore and Kim Ronquillo are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit whose messages to or from the compromised campaign accounts were intercepted. Moore and Ronquillo were former Martinez campaign staffers. Amaya and Cates sent emails to the campaign accounts. Braden characterized them as private citizens who are "not in any stretch of the word public figures."
Media outlets across the state, including SFR, published the contents of intercepted emails. Many showed Martinez and her staffers potentially attempting to circumvent the Inspection of Public Records Act by communicating through private, not government, emails and raised questions about the bidding process directed by the Martinez administration in its awarding of a lucrative racino lease in Albuquerque to owners of a Louisiana company who funneled tens of thousands of dollars to her campaign. Other disclosed emails included in the federal charges against Estrada contained personal information like bank account statements and receipts for personal purchases like undergarment orders.
Asked if those outlets might be named as defendants in the lawsuit, Braden replied that's "not our intention at the present time."
Most of the defendants and their attorneys had no comment at publication time because they had not seen the lawsuit.
But Michael Corwin says in an emailed statement that he's confident he's innocent of the wrongdoing alleged by the lawsuit. He posted some of the emails on the website of his now-closed political action committee, Independent Source PAC.
He attached a July 2012 email exchange with Robert Cowan—an investigator in Attorney General Gary King's office who requested the intercepted emails from Corwin—to the statement. King released dozens of emails to SFR in December 2012 following the paper's public records request.
"The emails reported on and released through my investigative reporting website, and most of which were sent or received using private email accounts, constituted public records under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act as they related to governmental affairs," reads his statement. "Further, as the attached email exchange shows, the emails I provided to the Attorney General's Office were done so at the request of a criminal investigator for that agency. As will be shown in court, this case is really about open government and free speech."
The lawsuit alleges the defendants conspired to violate the federal Wiretap Act and Stored Communications Act. It requests a jury trial and asks for statutory damages authorized by those laws—along with attorney fees and other relief.