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.
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.