(CN) – In a case involving public records, political squabbling and horsemeat, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Monday a state court judge had no obligation to disclose data from his personal election-campaign Facebook page.
The case is one of several legal battles between an attorney with political ambitions and the state’s attorney general.
Attorney A. Blair Dunn represented the company Valley Meat in 2013, when New Mexico sued to prevent it from slaughtering horses at its Roswell cattle processing plant.
Dunn had requested communications between state Attorney General Hector Balderas and a law firm, which Balderas denied citing attorney-client privilege.
Since then, Dunn has claimed that the state’s denials of his requests have been politically motivated.
The attorney, who ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat as a Republican in 2016, is now running for Balderas’ office as a Libertarian.
A 2014 injunction stopped Valley Meat from slaughtering horses, but Dunn continued his public records dispute against trial judge Matthew Wilson.
Dunn had requested all communications between Wilson and his staff about the Valley Meat case, as well as information from the “Keep Judge Matthew Wilson” Facebook page.
The attorney has been a harsh critic of the state judiciary and Balderas, whom he has called “the least transparent politician in the state.”
“The guy who is supposed to be sharing public information is the person who is concealing it. He fights everybody with lawsuits, they don’t turn over public records, they destroy records and they get away with it,” Dunn told the libertarian blog 71 Republic.
A spokesman for Balderas has called Dunn’s claims “reckless and false” in local media.
“What's most transparent is that Blair Dunn is more concerned with doing whatever he can to fabricate a resume to support his run for attorney general than he is concerned about wasting taxpayer money with yet another frivolous lawsuit,” spokesman James Hallinan told the Albuquerque Journal.
The Valley Meat public records case was bounced between trial court and the state Supreme Court, and the trial court’s records custodian was substituted as a defendant instead of Wilson.
Back at the New Mexico high court for final resolution, Justice Charles Daniels wrote for the court Monday that under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, an elected official’s social media campaign website are not public records subject to disclosure.
“There is no evidence that Judge Wilson’s personal election campaign or its Facebook site were acting on behalf of the First Judicial District Court or any other public body, or that any government funding was involved in maintenance of the Facebook site or any of its activities, or that Judge Wilson conducted public business through the site,” Daniels wrote in the 35-page order.
Members of the public had put comments on Wilson’s page that “urged him to stop the slaughter of horses for use as food and praised his rulings in the case,” Daniels noted.
But contrary to Valley Meat’s arguments, those comments are not subject to public record disclosure, Daniels wrote for the court. And Wilson did also not have to disclose drafts of his judicial orders or emails about his decision-making process in the Valley Meat case.
“We perceive no principled reason why the judicial deliberation privilege would protect a judge’s thought processes that are reflected in a draft order sent to a subordinate for review but would fail to protect the same thought processes reflected in the same draft order when it is submitted to a Supreme Court law librarian or other judicial branch colleague for review,” Daniels wrote.
Chief Justice Judith Nakamura and Justices Petra Jimenez Maes, Edward Chavez and Barbara Vigil concurred.
A post on the Facebook page “A. Blair Dunn for New Mexico” sardonically commented on the implications of the opinion.
“If you want to have a private communication with a judge about a case in front of him just mail him at home, email his private account or if you can’t find that information just send him a private message through Facebook,” the post read in part.
“Don’t worry, even if you are talking about public business, it is not a public record.”
The post continues: “Even if the judicial district does violate the law because a Justice personally does not like your lawyer and you now have the records that the district failed to properly produce that Supreme Court is going to call it ‘no harm no foul’ and prohibit you from holding the judicial district to account any further.”
Congress ended the commercial slaughter of horses a decade ago, but plants in several states were proposed in 2011 when an appropriations bill did not specifically forbid federal inspections of horsemeat.
The possibility of U.S. horsemeat spurred lawsuits by horse advocates and others. The ban was reestablished in 2014.
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