Settlement reached in records suit after school admits wrongdoing
NEW MEXICO–In mid-October, New Mexico University and The Las Cruces Sun-News agreed to an out-of-court settlement after the university admitted it violated the state public records act when it withheld documents relating to its legal expenses in a patent infringement lawsuit.
“It is clear that we should have released the figures sooner than we did,” university president Michael Orenduff stated in a letter to the Sun-News outlining the agreement. Following Orenduff’s admission, the university and the Sun-News reached a settlement that included an agreement by the university to reimburse the newspaper $2000 for expenses.
Beginning in July 1995, the Sun-News tried to find out how much the university was spending in legal fees in a protracted legal battle between the university and Terrametrix, Inc.*, a high-tech communications company. The university claimed that Terrametrix had stolen proprietary science owned by the university.
The Sun-News made several requests for documents pursuant to the public records act, but the university refused to release the documents. The university claimed that it was precluded from releasing the documents because of the pending lawsuit with Terrametrix.
In December 1995, the Sun-News and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government (FOG) moved to intervene in the Terrametrix lawsuit and sought a ruling on whether the university’s legal expenditures were exempt from disclosure. In early December 1995, Judge Lorenzo Garcia ruled that the records were not protected and should be released to the newspaper and FOG. The university continued to refuse to release the documents until there was a final decision in the Terrametrix case. On December 14, 1995, the Sun-News and FOG filed suit against the university to compel the release of the documents.
The university and Terrametrix settled their suit on December 15, 1995. But the university refused to disclose the legal fee documents until January 4, 1996 when it revealed it had paid more than $450,000 in legal fees related to the Terrametrix case.
The Sun-News and FOG then sought an accounting of the university’s legal expenditures and that suit remained in limbo until mid-October when Orenduff admitted the university moved too slowly in releasing the documents. (Las Cruces Sun-News v. New Mexico State University; Media Counsel: Michael Lilley, Las Cruces)
[* Editor’s Note: It has come to our attention that there is more than one company that uses the name Terrametrix in some form. A New-York based company has informed us that this is not a reference to them. As far as we know, the company named in this article is a New Mexico corporation.]