BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Los Alamos Reporter has learned that a suit filed by James Whitehead in First Judicial District Court April 13, 2018 against Los Alamos County, Los Alamos Police Department, Los Alamos County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Division, and Los Alamos County Records Custodian Barb Ricci under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) was settled in March for $4,500.
When Whitehead filed the suit through his attorney Blair Dunn, he believed he was entitled to an injunction ordering the County to produce all relevant documents he had requested since 2016 under IPRA but had not received. He asked the Court for a declaratory judgment adjudicating the County’s “improperly denied public records” or if necessary, a writ of mandamus
The complaint alleged that in June 2016, Whitehead asked the County for emails and memos regarding himself and several properties he owned. He claimed he received records which included a CD audio of a 911 call regarding his property and a telephone message from his veterinarian left for a responding officer. He said he requested additional records and that the County failed to provide timely responses.
Whitehead said in January 2017, he requested all information regarding the Friends of the Shelter including the group’s governance documents, charter, byelaws and forms. He claimed the County withheld documents based on state statutes and attorney work product and that a volunteer code of conduct for the group was not disclosed. Whitehead also alleged that when he was president of the Los Alamos Stable Owners Association, he requested information regarding modifications to some stable lots as discussed at an Association meeting from then Division Manager Chris Wilson for the Los Alamos Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Division and was told the information he requested was confidential.
Whitehead claimed he submitted yet another IPRA request for all records on the sale or transfer of ownership of County-owned improvements to a stable owner and requested to inspect the entire public record on that subject. He claimed he first received a redacted response and was later provided the documents with less redaction. He alleged that the County’s IPRA response was incomplete, that property was exchanged between the Parks Division and a private citizen, and that the County refused to provide the details of that exchange. He claimed the stable lot the County received in the alleged exchange was covered with an estimated 80 tons of debris and clutter which had to be removed and that the County refused to allow him to inspect the records pertaining to the cleanup effort.
Under the settlement agreement signed Mar. 1, Whitehead agreed to pay his own attorney’s fees from the settlement proceeds. The agreement states that it is not an admission of fault or wrongdoing by the County but “based solely on the consideration of the economic costs including the time and expense of litigation and not on any admissibility of liability whatsoever”.
The terms of the agreement including the settlement amount are confidential “to the extent provided by law”. The Los Alamos Reporter obtained a copy of the agreement by filing an IPRA request with Los Alamos County.