Sheriff Candidate Files Lawsuit Against County

By MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos Daily Post

James Whitehead, a candidate for Los Alamos County Sheriff, has filed a lawsuit in First Judicial District Court 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).

The lawsuit, the second filed against the County by a candidate for the office of sheriff, was prepared by attorney Blair Dunn, who also represents Sheriff Marco Lucero and former Los Alamos resident Patrick Brenner in their legal actions against the County.

Whitehead believes he is entitled to an injunction ordering the County to produce all relevant documents he has requested since 2016 under IPRA but has not received. He is asking the Court for a declaratory judgment adjudicating the County’s “improperly denied public records” or if necessary, a writ of mandamus requiring the County to produce the required records. He also is requesting attorney’s fees and damages in the case.

The complaint alleges that in June 2016, Whitehead requested the opportunity to inspect, examine or be provided copies including “emails and memorandum regarding himself and several properties owned by him.” He claims he received records from Ricci, 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 says that when he was going over the records he received, he discovered dispatch recordings had been sent to Leroy Lucero plus copies of dispatch records and related transcripts. He alleges that he requested more records, specifically information provided to Lucero but that Ricci responded that as Lucero was the investigator for the Municipal League, they were the record holder for Lucero’s “work product”. He accuses the County of failing to provide timely responses to his IPRA requests.

In January 2017, Whitehead states that he requested all information regarding the Friends of the Shelter including the group’s governance documents, charter, byelaws and forms. He claims the County withheld documents based on state statutes and attorney work product. He believes that a volunteer code of conduct for the group was not disclosed and that the deadline was Jan. 25, 2017.

Whitehead’s last issue is that Nov. 2 while he was president of the Los Alamos Stable Owners Association, he requested information regarding modifications to stable lots owned by Joanna (sic) Temple as discussed at an Association meeting the previous evening from Division Manager Chris Wilson for the Los Alamos Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Division and was told the information he requested was confidential.

Nov. 3, Whitehead submitted another IPRA request for all records on the sale or transfer of ownership of County-owned improvements to Temple and requested to inspect the entire public record on that subject. He claims he received a redacted response and called the County Records Custodian who then provided documents with less redaction.

Whitehead alleges that the County’s IPRA response is incomplete, that property was exchanged between the Parks Division and a private citizen. He accuses the County of refusing to provide the details of that exchange.

“In addition, a stable lot that the County received in this exchange was covered with an estimated 80 tons of debris and clutter. This material had to be removed before the lot could be used by the County. The County is refusing to allow inspection of the records related to this clean-up effort,” the complaint states.

The case has been assigned to Judge Francis J. Mathew but no hearing date has been set.

Los Alamos County Attorney Alvin Leaphart said his office does not comment on pending litigation.

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