NMCA: Court-issued protective orders trump the Inspection of Public Records Act

In a domestic relations case, the plaintiff sought records from a guardian ad litem who had been appointed for his son. The guardian ad litem sought and received a protective order, arguing that she was an arm of the court and shouldn’t have to produce documents until her report was complete.

The plaintiff then submitted an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request for the documents to the guardian ad litem and to the district court, which was refused. He sought declaratory judgment against them, but the district court judge hearing that case granted summary judgment to the defendants.

In Dunn v. Brandt, the Court of Appeals affirmed, in an opinion by Judge Vanzi. The Court held:

  • IPRA does not require public agencies or officials to disclose documents in violation of a court order.
  • Viewing IPRA as superseding a court order would violate separation of powers principles, because Rule 1-026(C) gives courts broad discretion to enter protective orders, and statutes may not trump court rules.
  • The judicial deliberation privilege recognized in Pacheco v. Hudson protects from disclosure communications between the district judge and the guardian ad litem, because the latter is an arm of the court.

Although these principles may make sense in many circumstances, I would be concerned that public agencies or officials involved in litigation may attempt to circumvent IPRA via collusive protective orders.

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