Corizon Health, which until 2016 held a $37.5 million annual contract to treat New Mexico prison inmates, is refusing to comply with court rulings requiring it to release settlements it made with prisoners who sued the company alleging poor care.

“It continues to be Corizon’s position that we are not subject to [the Inspection of Public Records Act], and we plan to pursue additional court action to clarify that position,” a Corizon spokeswoman said in an email earlier this month.

This comes despite two court rulings in New Mexico that say the settlements are public records.

The Santa Fe New Mexican, the Albuquerque Journal and the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government sued the company over its refusal to release the settlements in 2016, contending the company and the state Corrections Department couldn’t dodge New Mexico’s public records law through contract provisions.

State District Judge Raymond Ortiz agreed and ordered the company to release the settlements. Corizon appealed his ruling to the state Court of Appeals, and when the appellate court upheld Ortiz’s ruling in October, Corizon asked the state Supreme Court to review it.

The Supreme Court declined, but the company is still refusing to produce the records.

After denying requests The New Mexican sent in December and January, Corizon spokeswoman Eve Hutcherson said the company is waiting for the Court of Appeals to issue a mandate in the case — a process by which the court essentially refers the case back to District Court.

She added the company still does not believe it is subject to the Inspection of Public Records Act and “plans to seek court review of the fundamental issue.”

Asked what recourse the company still has, Dan Yohalem, the attorney who represented the newspapers and the Foundation for Open Government, said Corizon has none because IPRA is a state law.

The company, he added, has already argued its case at every level of New Mexico’s court system.

“They’re done,” Yohalem said. “They lost. They’ve got to cough up those records.”

Following the Court of Appeals ruling in October, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s spokesman said in an email: “The public records you seek should be obtainable. ... [The Department of] Corrections should be able to get that information from the provider and get it to you.”

But the department has repeatedly refused to produce settlements between inmates and the onetime medical care provider, arguing it is not the custodian of the records.

“I am disappointed that the New Mexico Department of Corrections has taken no responsibility for its vendor’s lack of compliance with a court-ordered mandate,” Foundation for Open Government President Susan Boe said in an email. “Throughout the history of this case, the Department has hidden behind the statement, ‘We don’t have possession of the documents.’ Well, why not? The state still is ultimately responsible for its prisoners and should be fully informed of the nature of a prisoner’s medical care or abuse.”

Court records show the state filed a motion in December in support of Corizon’s opposition to the lifting of a stay in another pending case in which the plaintiff seeks the same records.

That case, filed by the Human Rights Defense Center in 2016, has been stayed for more than three years awaiting the Court of Appeals ruling in The New Mexican’s case.

But when the Human Rights Defense Center filed a motion in November asking the court to move it forward in light of the appellate court ruling, Corizon argued the case should be kept on hold while awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling.

The state Department of Corrections filed a motion Dec. 18 supporting Corizon’s request.

The issue was moot by that point — the Supreme Court had decided two days earlier not to review the Corizon case — but the state District Court has set a hearing on the motions for April.

The Corrections Department did not respond to questions about why the agency filed the motion.

“The Department of Corrections is obviously in cahoots with them and abetting them on this,” Human Rights Defense Center Director Paul Wright said.

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(2) comments

Chris Mechels

Part of whats going on here is that the IPRA law, by Legislative design, is rather toothless. Failure to deliver the records opens the agency, Corrections in this case, to $100 per day fine, payable from Corrections funds. In other words, at worst, they get fined, and WE pay, because WE fund Corrections. Needed, criminal penalties, but our Legislature doesn't like REAL penalties, just fictional ones. Which explains why New Mexico is such a sewer, ranking last in everything by sunshine. The one who could end this, quite simply, is the Governor. She has the power, to fire the CD Secretary Lucero, and to seize the records. But, on her record, she doesn't like giving up HER records. Another fraud... But, the sun is still shining. Down below, the corrupt Thumbelina and the dwarfs.

Chris Mechels

Lacking in this coverage is the obvious, the role of the Governor. MLG has the power to dismiss the Corrections Department Secretary Lucero, and install someone who will release the records. Failure to do this indicts the Governor. Why is the media reluctant to state the obvious. Our Governor won't support IPRA, Full Stop. In spite of her openness claims, she is NOT open, as I have discovered when seeking records from her staff. She needs to be "busted" on this issue.

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