SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The state’s Risk Management Division is about to start posting all of the department’s lawsuit settlements online for the public to see.
The announcement comes just a month after KRQE News 13 Investigative Reporter Larry Barker exposed a series of secret lawsuit settlements made at the end of Governor Susana Martinez’s administration that cost taxpayers nearly $2-million.
The state’s General Services Department, which oversees Risk Management, says the lawsuit settlements for cases available after January 1, 2019, should start appearing online in August.
“It’s taxpayer dollars, we’re stewards of the state and we want to be fully transparent,” said General Services Department Secretary Ken Ortiz in an interview with KRQE News 13 Thursday.
The state’s Risk Management Division handles liability claims against New Mexico state government. The cases cover a wide array of situations, including medical malpractice, negligence, discrimination, civil rights violations and more.
A 2016 Larry Barker investigation first exposed the state’s practice of quiet and sometimes secret lawsuit settlements. The investigation show that the state spent more than 123-million dollars on lawsuit settlements.
While it’s common for the state to settle lawsuits, it’s uncommon for much information to be released about them. Typically, the state requires the public to file public records requests to obtain information about lawsuits. Sometimes, that information is limited.
“It’s the first time ever that we know of that any type of settlements (will be) posted online and in New Mexico,” said Ortiz of the new initiative.
The state says it plans on posting information about the person who filed the lawsuit, the defendant or public official it was against, and the dollar amount that the state paid out.
“The public has a right to know what their dollars are being spent on and how they’re being spent,” said Ortiz.
Recently, KRQE News 13 Investigative Reporter Larry Barker exposed the $1.7-million in lawsuit settlements hashed out in the final days of Governor Susana Martinez’s administration.
KRQE News 13 asked Secretary Ortiz what’s behind the new initiative from Risk Management and the GSD.
“There is a lot of interest because some of these awards historically have been huge dollar amounts, said Ortiz.
He hopes the new online postings can build public confidence in state government.
“It’s a way of providing the public the knowledge, the information of what we’re doing every day within the risk management division,” said Ortiz.
The General Services Department says it’s also talking to lawmakers about passing legislation that would legally force the state to publicly post settlement information.