Neither side plans to appeal state District Judge Sarah Singleton's ruling in SFR's lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez.
The decision by both SFR's legal team and the governor's private attorney, Paul Kennedy, means the two sides will spend the next few weeks hashing out attorneys' fees for the three Inspection of Public Records Act violations by the governor's office.
In a 65-page ruling, Singleton held that the governor has the right to discriminate against news organizations if she feels they are more critical of her than others. Singleton wrote that the newspaper's "requests for information or interviews which went unanswered were not comparable to the mundane requests made by other newspapers."
Singleton ruled that news outlets don't have a right to access to elected officials beyond routine information given out to all media organizations and the public.
David Snyder, executive director of the California-based First Amendment Coalition, says there's little case law on such issues and says that "we've seen a growing sense among elected officials that they're entitled to exclude particular journalists or publications because they don't like the way those journalists or publications go about their business."
SFR's claim was unprecedented in New Mexico. Attorney Daniel Yohalem says the ruling could encourage more secrecy among elected officials and is a missed opportunity to expand protection for freedom of the press. Because the judge's decision was made at the District Court level, it does not create a precedent for other such cases.
The newspaper prevailed in IPRA claims where the judge said the governor's office didn't make a good faith effort to search her private emails for information about public business. The judge also ruled the governor illegally withheld records on pardons made by her office.
"The fact that the judge ruled in this case that the governor's office broke the law in three instances is significant. We hope the governor's choice to accept the ruling and not to appeal means that now she understands that, too," says SFR editor and publisher Julie Ann Grimm.
"Journalists are well aware that often public agencies don't follow the state's public records law," Grimm continues, "but it's not often that media outlets are able to pursue a court case all the way to a judge's decision."
The cost of filing a such a lawsuit is often prohibitive not just for news organizations, but for the public. Thus, while IPRA sets out the law, it can often be flaunted by a public agency or elected official who is willing to bet that the offended party won't sue.
SFR's legal team, Yohalem and Katherine Murray, took the case on a contingency basis and will only recover their costs for the legal issues in which the paper prevailed. Those costs will be decided over the coming weeks and ultimately approved by the court.
"Without the generosity and risk-taking from our legal team, we would never have been able to take this case as far as we did," Grimm says.