Federal Judge Allows Martinez Email Lawsuit to Continue

Judge William Johnson grants, denies defendants' motions to toss the politically charged case

US District Court Judge William "Chip" Johnson has ruled that a politically charged federal lawsuit over emails leaked from Gov. Susana Martinez' campaign accounts can enter its next pretrial phase, but he tossed conspiracy claims brought against the six defendants and dismissed the governor's former personal assistant Anissa Ford from the case.

In June 2014, the plaintiffs in the case—Crystal Amaya, Brad Cates, Brian Moore and Kim Ronquillo—filed a federal lawsuit against five defendants for allegedly violating a wiretapping statute by disclosing emails they sent or received over Martinez' campaign domain.

They sued Ford; the state Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman; Michael Corwin, who worked for the anti-Martinez political action committee Independent Source PAC; Jason Loera, a Democratic operative later charged by the US Attorney's office of possession of child pornography, to which he pleaded not guilty; and Jamie Estrada, who is serving out a nine-month prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to violating the criminal side of the federal wiretapping statute and lying to the FBI about his role in intercepting "hundreds" of the emails sent to the campaign accounts. The plaintiffs later added Bruce Wetherbee, who also worked for Independent Source PAC, as a defendant in the case.

The federal statute does not authorize a person whose rights have been violated under the statute to a sue on the basis of conspiracy, Johnson ruled, tossing the claim against the defendants that they worked together to leak the emails. He also said that "further factual development is needed" to determine if the plaintiffs filed the complaint within the two-year statute of limitations. 
The defendants argued the case should be tossed because they were sued on June 27, 2014—more than two years after the date the interceptions became public on June 19, 2012. The trigger for the statute of limitations to go into effect is date that a person has a "reasonable opportunity to discover" the interception of emails, Johnson ruled, not when the interceptions actually occurred. 

Johnson, in allowing plaintiffs to continue on one count of the lawsuit, said that "it is plausible" that Corwin and Wetherbee knew or should have known the emails were illegally intercepted due to the sheer volume of the documents as well as the "private and confidential" contents of some of the emails. Corwin, after publishing the emails in 2012, stated that an unnamed source obtained them by purchasing Martinez' campaign domain in an auction after it expired.

But Johnson tossed Ford, who has publicly spoken out against Martinez, as a defendant in the case, saying that the plaintiffs didn't have the factual basis to sue her for the interceptions.

"In fact," Johnson wrote in the ruling, "the relevant factual content discussing Ford's activity in particular is limited."

"Mere receipt and possession of emails does not itself rise to the level of 'interception,'" he added.

Two of the plaintiffs sent emails to the Martinez accounts. Two of them possessed email addresses under those accounts. They are unknowns suing bigger-name Democratic politicos with help from Mark Braden, counsel for the prominent out-of-state BakerHostetler lawfirm and whom the Republican Lawyers Association named the Republican lawyer of the year in 2014. 

Pat Rogers, a local GOP lobbyist and operative, made an entry of appearance in the case on Feb. 27, after SFR published a report questioning whether Rogers had been behind the lawsuit without attaching his name to it, as required by federal rules.

The publication of Rogers' intercepted emails led to his resignation from the powerful Modrall Sperling law firm. His emails not only showed some crude language, but also communications with Martinez aides about a lucrative contract Martinez' administration eventually awarded to his client, the Downs at Albuquerque Racetrack and Casino, which was bidding with the state for a lease extension for its racino on state fairgrounds in Duke City. 

Order on Motion to Dismiss Email Lawsuit by justinhorwath

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at]sfreporter.com. Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.