SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new website is shedding light on how much public money the state spends to stay out of the courtroom.
For the first time, dozens of mostly hidden lawsuit settlements have been posted online, in public view as part of the state’s “Sunshine Portal” website.
Listed under a section titled, “risk settlements/awards,” the state has posted details about more than 70 lawsuits settled by the state, with information about who filed the claim, how much was paid out, and what departments were involved in the case.
“It’s taxpayer dollars and taxpayers have a right to know,” said Secretary Ken Ortiz, who oversees the General Services Department and the state’s Risk Management Division.
The new transparency measure comes after KRQE News 13 Investigative Reporter Larry Barker exposed a series of high-profile settlements under former New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez. Those settlements cost taxpayers $1.7 million.
Up until now, the state has never posted lawsuit settlement information on the Sunshine Portal.
“Once again, we feel it’s very important to provide as much information as possible,” said Ortiz.
While the new lawsuit settlement portal does not contain information the initial complaint or allegations against that brought the settlement, the public can view the agreements and any stipulations that came with the settlement.
“The public can search it, view it and from there we’re always available to answer any questions,” said Ortiz. “Under this administration, we’re really focused on providing as much information to the public.”
The online postings about settlements range in price from $1,000 to far higher amounts. One of the smallest settlements posted details a $1,500 payout to a former inmate of the state’s correctional facility in Los Lunas. The lawsuit alleged that an inmate was kept in the facility for an extra four days past his legal release date.
Another settlement details a $625,000 payout to the estate of a family killed in a 2016 crash involving a cow on a New Mexico state highway. The state is legally responsible for fencing livestock off highways.
According to another settlement, the state also paid a woman $95,000 after she claimed her probation officer forced her into a sexual relationship.
“If there’s a bad actor, if there’s issues that we all need to pay attention to, that information will be coming out,” said Ortiz.
All of the lawsuit settlements posted so far are from cases where the 180-day confidentiality period expired during 2019. The GSD says it intends on going back and posting lawsuits that became public during previous years, as well.
Click here to view the settlement agreements on the state’s website.
The website can also be found at www.sunshineportalnm.com. At the bottom of the main page, a box titled “Risk Settlements / Awards” will take users to lawsuit settlement portal.