By Mike Linn
A district judge threw out a public records lawsuit filed against Curry County on Monday because of what he said was a procedural error.
District Judge Joe Parker said Freedom Communications, parent company of the Clovis News Journal, incorrectly sued Curry County when it sought the salaries of county employees. Parker said the lawsuit should have listed the county’s board of commissioners as defendants, and whoever was in charge of the records, in this case Curry County Manager Geneva Cooper.
He said his decision may look like the lawsuit was thrown out due to a technicality, but he said his decision was based on a “procedural matter.”
“The requirement of the statute is that it be filed in a particular manner and it was not,” Parker said. “This is something that cannot be overlooked. Counsel for Freedom (Communications) wanted to equate this to the rule to civil procedure, and there the judge is given considerable discretion. In my opinion the discretion is not necessarily the case in the statutory alignment.”
Max Best, attorney for the News Journal, said attorneys will evaluate the judge’s decision and determine whether an appeal is appropriate. He declined to comment on what he thought of the judge’s ruling.
County attorney Stephen Doerr did not return a phone call Monday seeking comment.
The newspaper in the spring attempted to obtain 2003 salaries for all employees with the city, county, state, public schools and Clovis Community College for a featured package published in September.
The entities produced the information on request, with the exception of Curry County. The newspaper sued the county for the records and the records were delivered a few days later.
The lawsuit also alleges county violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Judge Parker did not address the merits of the case after declaring it moot because of the procedural issue.