Thanks to AG for getting Richardson’s records released
The attorney general’s intervention on behalf of those seeking to gain access to former Gov. Bill Richardson’s office files should not have been necessary.
The simple fact of the matter is that the law doesn’t say that Richardson can have his office’s records kept secret for eight years, regardless of what he asked the state’s archive center to do. It’s obvious from a reading of the law.
But first, for those of you who haven’t heard about this story, here’s the skinny, from the Albuquerque Journal:
“State records administrator Sandra Jaramillo reversed course Tuesday after advice from the state attorney general and said she would release documents from Gov. Bill Richardson’s administration if they qualify as public records.
“Jaramillo had denied some requests for records on the basis of an agreement with the former governor. Richardson, who left office at the end of 2010, turned over the records from his eight years in office on the condition they be sealed for eight years — a condition also used by some former governors since 1967.”
To justify the tradition that has been used by “some former governors,” Jaramillo cited this 1967 law, which she said allowed governors to seal their office’s records:
“The state records administrator may accept and place in the state archives the personal files, records and documents of elected state officials or of former elected state officials, subject to any reasonable restrictions, moratoriums and requirements concerning their use by other persons.”
That’s it. The law is clear: It deals with “personal” files, records and documents that elected officials or former elected officials want to give the state records administrator. It’s not referring to documents that come from the office of the governor – records that belong to the people of the State of New Mexico and are not the governor’s “personal” property.
Fortunately, King stepped in
But in this state, tradition has often trumped law, and many governors, including Richardson, have had their office’s records sealed for a time.
Fortunately, Attorney General Gary King stepped in. His chief deputy, Al Lama, sent a letter to Jaramillo stating that the law doesn’t allow the sealing of records. Lama wrote that the law applies “only to personal records.”
“Accordingly, the State Records and Archives must, upon request, allow inspection of public records transferred to the State Records Center by former Governor Richardson” except for records that qualify for another exemption under law, Lama’s letter states.
So now, with the state’s top law enforcement officer stepping in and telling her that tradition doesn’t trump the law, Jaramillo is ready to release the records.
It’s a shame that the attorney general had to step in at all, but we’re fortunate to have an attorney general who was willing to do that in spite of the potential political consequences. King, like Richardson, is a Democrat, and some want the records specifically to hunt for things related to the pay-to-play scandals that plagued Richardson’s administration.
Nice job, AG King. Keep it up.
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