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Pacheco v. Hudson

Supreme Court of New Mexico

March 5, 2018

STEPHEN PACHECO, in his official capacity as Custodian of Records for the First Judicial District Court, and the FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT OF NEW MEXICO, Petitioners,
v.
HON. JAMES M. HUDSON, Fifth Judicial District Court Judge, Respondent, and VALLEY MEAT COMPANY, LLC, and RICARDO DE LOS SANTOS, Real Parties in Interest.

         ORIGINAL PROCEEDING

          Fuqua Law & Policy, P.C. Scott Fuqua Santa Fe, NM for Petitioners.

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General James C. Jacobsen, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Respondent.

          Western Agriculture, Resource and Business Advocates, LLP A. Blair Dunn Albuquerque, NM L. Helen Bennett, P.C. Linda Helen Bennett Albuquerque, NM for Real Parties in Interest.

          OPINION

          CHARLES W. DANIELS, Justice.

         {¶1} New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 14-2-1 to-12 (1947, as amended through 2013) (IPRA), was enacted to provide the public with broad access to public records reflecting "the affairs of government and the official acts of public officers and employees." Section 14-2-5.

         {¶2} In this superintending control proceeding arising from an IPRA action filed in one district court seeking an order for disclosure of records directed to another district court, we clarify the constitutional and statutory procedures for IPRA enforcement actions to compel production of court records, and we hold that IPRA actions directed at a district court's records must be filed against the lawfully designated IPRA custodian and must be filed in the judicial district that maintains the records.

         {¶3} We also hold that (1) contents of an officeholder's personal election campaign social media website and (2) internal decision-making communications that are at the core of the constitutional duties of the judicial branch, such as preliminary drafts of judicial decisions, are not public records that are subject to mandatory disclosure and inspection under IPRA.

         I. BACKGROUND

         {¶4} Although the issues in this superintending control proceeding relate to the interpretation of the scope of IPRA, the controversy arose from a civil case in the First Judicial District Court, State ex rel. King v. Valley Meat Co., LLC, No. D-101-CV-2013-3197 (Valley Meat case). Because of the multiplicity of actions in three different courts that we must address, we will refer to the various parties by name rather than their party designation in any of the separate suits.

         {¶5} On Saturday, January 18, 2014, early in the proceedings in the Valley Meat case, A. Blair Dunn, counsel for Valley Meat Co., e-mailed an IPRA request to First Judicial District Court Executive Officer Stephen Pacheco for production of, among other things, communications and records relating to the Valley Meat case, including "all communications between . . . Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff . . . and Court Clerk's staff" and "[a]ny communications received by Judge Matthew Wilson and his staff, Judge Raymond Ortiz and his staff, and any member of the Court Clerk's staff to/from any outside person or organization."

         {¶6} On the same date, Mr. Dunn also e-mailed a separate IPRA request to First Judicial District Judge Matthew Wilson, the assigned judge in the Valley Meat case, to not only provide the same records requested from Mr. Pacheco but additionally to produce information relating to the "Keep Judge Matthew Wilson Facebook page" on an Internet social media website maintained by Judge Wilson's personal election campaign. In particular, the IPRA request sought production of communications posted by members of the public on Judge Wilson's personal election campaign Facebook page, including a copy of the Facebook page, a list of people who had clicked a button to indicate they "Liked" the Facebook page, copies of all private Facebook messages to or from Judge Wilson, copies of the "permissions settings" for the Facebook page, and copies of any posts by the page administrators or by members of the public, including any deleted posts.

         {¶7} On February 3, Mr. Pacheco responded to both IPRA requests, advising Mr. Dunn that as executive officer of the First Judicial District Court he, and not Judge Wilson, was the district court's custodian of records designated to receive and respond to IPRA requests. See § 14-2-7 (providing that each public body shall designate at least one custodian of public records to receive and respond to IPRA requests).

         {¶8} Mr. Pacheco's response individually addressed each of Mr. Dunn's requests and stated that the court was producing all pertinent and producible public records that had been located by both electronic and manual searches. The response noted that the court was not in a position to produce items related to Judge Wilson's personal election campaign Facebook page, none of which were "used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of the First Judicial District Court." The response also advised that privileged communications that "are exempt from disclosure under IPRA" would not be produced.

         {¶9} On February 24, Mr. Dunn filed an IPRA enforcement lawsuit in the Fifth Judicial District Court on behalf of Valley Meat Co. and its manager Ricardo De Los Santos (collectively Valley Meat), naming as defendants Judge Wilson and the First Judicial District Court but not Mr. Pacheco. The lawsuit, assigned to Fifth Judicial District Judge James M. Hudson, alleged that "Defendants have violated the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act by failing to produce the public records properly requested by the Plaintiffs as required by the IPRA" and sought injunctive relief, damages, and attorney fees.

         {¶10} On March 17, the office of the Attorney General answered the complaint on behalf of the judicial defendants, Judge Wilson and the First Judicial District Court. On April 11, the Attorney General's office filed a motion for summary judgment with supporting affidavits, asserting that all known unprivileged IPRA public records had been disclosed. The motion noted that the disclosed records included thirteen pages of e-mails that had already been known to Mr. Dunn before he filed his IPRA request but that had not been located in the court computer system until after the IPRA lawsuit was filed.

{¶11} With respect to those late-disclosed e-mails, the motion for summary judgment and supporting affidavits reported the process that led to their belated production. To locate the requested categories of e-mails, First Judicial District Court personnel sought assistance from the Administrative Office of the Courts' Judicial Information Division (JID), which maintains and oversees the state judiciary's computer systems. JID personnel conducted four server searches between January 22 and 30 for e-mails responsive to Mr. Dunn's requests but did not find those particular e-mails.

{¶12} After Mr. Pacheco provided the initial February 3 IPRA response, district court staff learned that Mr. Dunn claimed to be in possession of a number of Judge Wilson's e-mails that would have been covered by Mr. Dunn's IPRA request but that had not been disclosed in the February 3 response. Court personnel then conducted several additional e-mail searches, finding in Judge Wilson's alternative court e-mail account, dedicated to communicating proposed text for court documents among parties and the court, thirteen additional pages of emails related to the Valley Meat case that had been received by, sent by, or copied to Judge Wilson's chambers. Although Mr. Dunn had been a party to all those e-mails when they were first transmitted, Mr. Pacheco formally reprovided copies of these additional emails to Mr. Dunn in a March 17 supplemental IPRA response.

{¶13} Before ruling on the motion for summary judgment, Judge Hudson had examined in camera five e-mail files that the First Judicial District Court had withheld from the February 3 production on grounds of privilege and concluded that four of the five constituted communications between Judge Wilson and his staff or the court's staff attorney that were protected from disclosure by a constitutional judicial deliberation privilege. As Judge Hudson noted in his written decision, Valley Meat conceded those four privileged communications were exempt from disclosure.

{14} Judge Hudson also ruled that the judicial deliberation privilege did not apply to the fifth e-mail exchange in which Judge Wilson had requested assistance in proofreading an unfiled draft order in the Valley Meat case from Stephanie Wilson, who was an employee of the Supreme Court Law Library and the spouse of Judge Wilson. Judge Hudson ruled that the judicial deliberation privilege did not protect that e-mail exchange because Stephanie Wilson was neither a member nor an "essential extension[] of" Judge Wilson's First Judicial District Court staff.

         {¶15} With regard to the Facebook requests, Judge Hudson concluded that Judge Wilson had not been acting in any official judicial capacity in establishing or maintaining his election campaign Facebook page and concluded that the Facebook contents were not public records of the First Judicial District Court and consequently were not governed by IPRA.

         {¶16} Judge Hudson also addressed the thirteen pages of e-mails that had been located and produced before his ruling but after the IPRA lawsuit was filed. Although Mr. Dunn had been a party to or had been copied on each of those e-mails at the times of their original transmissions, and therefore already possessed them when the First Judicial District Court provided its timely February 3 initial IPRA response, Judge Hudson noted that IPRA requires production of public records without regard to whether the requestor already has the records. He concluded that although those emails had been produced by the time of his ruling, the failure to locate and produce them within the fifteen-day IPRA production period constituted an unlawful failure to produce.

         {¶17} Based on these rulings, Judge Hudson granted partial summary judgment in favor of the judicial defendants on all issues except the undisclosed e-mail exchange between Judge Wilson and Supreme Court Law Librarian Stephanie Wilson regarding the request to proofread a preliminary draft of an order in the underlying lawsuit and the thirteen pages of e-mails disclosed after commencement of the IPRA enforcement action. As to those matters, he ruled that Valley Meat would be entitled to recovery of costs and attorney fees under Section 14-2-12(D) as a prevailing party in the enforcement lawsuit.

         {¶18} Following entry of the partial summary judgment, the First Judicial District Court filed a petition for a writ of superintending control in this Court to have us consider issues of judicial immunity and the scope of IPRA.

         {¶19} After initial briefing and oral argument we remanded the matter to the Fifth Judicial District Court with instructions that Judge Hudson complete the adjudication of all issues outstanding in the case before we entered a final disposition in the superintending control case before us. We also directed Judge Hudson to dismiss Judge Wilson as a named defendant in the IPRA action and to substitute Stephen Pacheco, the lawfully designated IPRA custodian of public records for the First Judicial District Court.

         {¶20} On remand, Judge Hudson ordered that records custodian Stephen Pacheco be substituted for Judge Wilson as a defendant and, assisted by stipulations of the parties, issued a final judgment essentially confirming his earlier rulings. He concluded that Pacheco and the First Judicial District Court were liable for Valley Meat's attorney fees and costs related to the enforcement action for the late-produced e-mails and the e-mail exchange between Judge Wilson and Supreme Court Law Librarian Stephanie Wilson regarding the draft judicial order. But Judge Hudson did not make an assessment of costs and fees, believing he did not have the constitutional authority to order their payment by the terms of Article VI, Section 13 of the New Mexico Constitution, which prohibits a district court from issuing orders "directed to judges or courts of equal or superior jurisdiction."

         {¶21} Following the issuance of the final judgment in the district court, the matter came back before this Court for final resolution of the writ of superintending control.

         II.DISCUS ...


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