SANTA FE (KRQE) — With the current governor caught in a controversy over using private e-mail accounts for public business, KRQE News 13 has learned her two predecessors went out of their way to avoid leaving digital trails.
All sides have flung barbs and threats recently as Gov. Susana Martinez, the state Republican Party and legislators squabble over e-mail usage.
Republicans counter that the practice has been around for years with Democrats just as guilty as of the practice.
"I don't think that a court in New Mexico has done the analysis yet on private e-mails for public officials," Attorney General Gary King said Friday. "So that might be a really important case."
The political-year dustup expanded this week to include King, a Democrat now the target of a Republican public-records request for his private e-mails.
Public officials' use of private e-mail aside, the issue of whether e-mails from government accounts are public record was settled a few years ago.
"In the early days it wasn't sure if it was public record, if it was more akin to the telephone," State Records Administrator John Hyrum Martinez said. "It wasn't until a number of court decisions that said no, these are public record."
But don't go over to the State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe expecting to find state e-mails from former Govs. Bill Richardson and Gary Johnson.
"Richardson was the first governor we got e-mail from, so this is a learning experience for all of us," Martinez continued.
And while the archive received more than 2.5 million e-mails from Richardson administration officials, archivists were surprised when they checked Richardson's state e-mail address.
"Well, it appears that the e-mail wasn't used," Martinez said. "We found there were no records in his in or his sent or his deleted boxes."
That's right. It appears Richardson never used his state e-mail address even one time during his eight years in office.
Instead if his staff needed to communicate with him, they used one of the governor's private e-mail accounts.
"I remember one was for Bill Richardson for President, but the other ones were just private e-mails," Martinez said.
In one example of an e-mail Richardson sent to his spokesman Gilbert Gallegos on April 18, 2008, Gallegos used his state e-mail address while Richardson responded from a private address blacked out in the public document.
It's not known why Richardson chose not to use his state e-mail address since he has not responded to a request for comment from KRQE News 13.
But the attorney general said using private e-mail today to avoid public scrutiny may not hold up in court. Some clarification is likely in the near future, he added.
"I don't think that it's a slam dunk to say this was all done on my private e-mail so it's not subject to the Inspection of Public Records Act," King said. "I think that this next year or so will be really important in New Mexico history to decide what are public records and what have to be delivered."
Former Gov. Gary Johnson told News 13 he never used his state e-mail address while in office.
He said he didn't want his e-mail to be subject to the open-records law because that would hamper honest communication with his staff.
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New Mexico is located in the southwestern region of the U.S. Inhabited by Native American populations for many centuries, New Mexico has also been part of Imperial Spain, part of Mexico, and a U.S. territory.