BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Former State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and Los Alamos resident James Whitehead have responded to a news release issued Thursday by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDG&F) on the settlement of lawsuits filed by the two men alleging the Department violated the Inspection of Public Records Act.
The two lawsuits related to separate requests by Dunn and Whitehead to inspect all electronic records regarding the NMDG&F Big Game Draw system and applications for the years 2015 through 2019 such as detailed success draw results, names and addresses of all successful applicants, units applied for and units drawn. They also requested the policy and procedure documents that govern the Big Draw as well as the software involved including the source code.
Court records indicate NMDG&F responded to the requests stating that the Department does not give out addresses of license buyers. Dunn’s suit was filed in the Seventh Judicial District Court in Torrance County and Whitehead’s was filed in the First Judicial District Court in Los Alamos. Dunn received some $21,048 and Whitehead was awarded $8,958 in costs and attorneys’ fees.
In January, the New Mexico Court of Appeals determined that NMG&F collected the addresses of the applicants to carry out its licensing program and that information colleced from the public by a government agency in connection with its public duties falls within the meaning of public records.
“This is a purely retaliatory action by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish – sore losers that got caught purposefully not following the law. I asked for this information to inform New Mexico’s hunters and fishers of our conservation efforts on state trust lands at the Land Office and to remind them to do things to take care of our lands like shutting the gate behind them when they are out hunting,” Dunn said. “The sad thing is that they have now wasted tens of thousands of dollars fighting over information that they have been giving out just months before to the Wildlife Federation and other hunting unfriendly environmental groups. The Department should be ashamed for engaging in First Amendment retaliation against myself and Mr. Whitehead.”
Dunn said what he will now use the information to point out other misuses by the Department and issues where they harm the hunting public or property owners by their “heavy handed tactics and total disregard for the law”.
Whitehead told the Los Alamos Reporter through his attorney Blair Dunn, that he is extremely disappointed in the retaliatory actions by NMDG&F.
“Unfortunately, these are the consequences of purposeful and blatant disregard of the law by those we have entrusted to enforce it. I requested this information only to evaluate potential impropriety that may be occurring within the New Mexico Big Draw Hunts,” Whitehead said. “It is my suspicion that any improprieties will become apparent in a basic evaluation of these results – improprieties that would be indicated by too frequent draw success by persons associated with the NMDG&F and their employees.”
Whitehead said he assures all his fellow New Mexico hunters and guest hunters that he has “no ill intent towards them or our hunting sports”.
“I will not share the information that I received with anyone, nor will I use it for any reason of personal or monetary benefit. Unfortunately this information, like the information on your voter registration, is ‘Public Record’, and available to anyone who requests it,” he said. “It is my intention to provide government oversight to an organization that until now has been left to do as it pleases to the detriment of all others.”
Whitehead said what he finds most frustrating is that the NMDG&F has “wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting to protect potential wrongdoing within their organization while claiming to be doing so to protect New Mexico’s hunters and guest hunters.
“As Aubrey Dunn has stated, this information was already provided by the NMDG&F to the Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups that are unfriendly to hunters. Their decision to engage in retaliation against Aubrey Dunn and myself for exercising our First Amendment Rights to, ‘petition the Government for a redress of grievances’ is reprehensible and a violation of the oaths that all law enforcement officers within the state of New Mexico are required to take”.
The NMDG&F news, published elsewhere as district court news, states that NMDG&F argued against the release of the information but ultimately lost. It quotes director Michael Sloane as stating, “We value the privacy of our customers’ personal information but recognize that is the court’s interpretation of the current IPRA law”.
“The Department will release the requested information today and wants to make their customers aware,” the news release says. “Individuals who believe they are being harassed by solicitors or similar as a result of this release should call toll-free (844) 255-9210 or file a complaint online at http://www.nmag.file-a-complaint.aspx.”