New Mexico posts online its settlement payouts

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico on Thursday posted online dozens of financial settlements that resolve claims against state government for alleged civil rights violations, malpractice, whistleblower retaliation and other misconduct.

The move responds to concerns about undisclosed payouts worth millions of dollars to resolve claims of discrimination and retaliation against Public Safety Department officials and other state personnel under the administration of former Gov. Susana Martinez.

Financial terms of settlements were made available at the state's online clearinghouse for public information known as the Sunshine Portal by the General Services Department. The agency not only manages the public records portal but also oversees the risk management division that provides legal representation to state agencies and public officials — often from complaints filed by the state's own employees.

Newly disclosed settlements run the gamut from personal injury claims — one stemming from a collapsed public bench at the state fair that cost taxpayers $117,000 — to alleged civil rights violations stemming from a state parole officer's sexual relationship with a parolee, costing $95,000.

They include a prior $900,000 payout disclosed Monday to three former State Police officials who accused the former police chief of discriminatory and lewd behavior, along with retaliation against those who complained.

General Services Secretary Ken Ortiz said the public can now review state settlements without filing a records request, and that his agency is committed to providing as much information as possible about claims made against state agencies.

First-year Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the changes allow the public to know more about settlements and whether they are equitable and responsible.

"We have seen unsettling things about how taxpayer money was used by the prior administration," she said in the statement. "I'm glad light will be shed on state settlements beginning today."

The state will continue to enforce a statutory 180-day waiting period for the disclosure of settlements after the close of litigation, said Thom Cole, a spokesman for the General Services Department. The agency has overruled some attempts to seal settlement agreements for longer periods of time.

The Office of the State Auditor is reviewing a series of settlement payouts last year to officials at the Public Safety Department near the end of the Martinez administration.