Albuquerque government settles fewer lawsuits as COVID-19 takes hold

Politics - Government

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – While New Mexico was mostly shut down between April and June, the City of Albuquerque’s legal department was still working to settle a lot of lawsuits. The most recent report filed with Albuquerque City Council shows the city spent more than $300,000 to settle lawsuits between April and June of 2020.

Out of 13 lawsuits that cost the city over $10,000 and were settled in “quarter-four” of Albuquerque’s 2020 fiscal year, three lawsuits were settled without payment. The other ten cost a collective $344,500. City Attorney Esteban Aguilar Jr. said Thursday the city hasn’t identified a decline in the number of lawsuits being filed against the city, but it has seen a delay in the closure of cases due to COVID-19 related changes in local courts.

The lawsuits range from police-related matters to public records accusations and claims over alleged negligence on various city properties. The most costly lawsuit resulted in a $75,000 settlement paid to a man who the Albuquerque Police Department arrested and accused of forgery and fraud. That man was later determined to be a victim of identity theft.

Two other matters related to APD resulted in settlements, including a public records case and another case tied to the now-defunct DWI car seizure program. The city settled with Leo Martinez over his 1970 Chevy Chevelle which was initially seized in 2009 DWI stop. According to the initial lawsuit, Martinez was only successful in finding out that the city still had possession of his vehicle after a family member saw the car in a Facebook post. The Facebook post claimed the vehicle was going to be turned into a “period correct” police show car.

An attorney for Martinez said Thursday Martinez was able to retake possession of his vehicle. The settlement is expected to cover the costs of repairing the damage the vehicle incurred while in the city’s possession for nearly a decade.

Local activist Charles Arasim settled with the city for more than $42,000 over alleged public records violations. Arasim filed the lawsuit after the city refused to turn over police records tied to the January 2019 fatal shooting and manhunt in front of Central Grill in Old Town.

Records indicate the city settled with a bicyclist for $25,000 after a crash on the public bike path near Balloon Fiesta Park. According to the initial lawsuit, the bicyclist was “clotheslined” by a greywater hose after city workers had stretched the hose neck-high across the bike path in October 2018.

A man who tripped and fell at the Eagle Rock Convenience Center in July 2017 obtained a $50,000 settlement from the city. According to the initial lawsuit, the man accused the city of failing to maintain an “unobstructed parking area,” and failing to maintain “customer rails.”

A spokeswoman for the Solid Waste department said Thursday the city entered into a “no-fault settlement agreement” to “avoid further litigation costs.” Solid Waste says it is “in compliance with all OSHA standards, which does not require additional safety railings at Eagle Rock Convenience Center.”

According to data posted by the city, the 13 cases settled between April and June of 2020 represents the smallest number of cases settled by the city in a single fiscal year quarter over the last three years.

New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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