- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Political opponents of Gov. Susana Martinez, including the chairman of the state Democratic Party, were sued Friday for allegedly violating federal privacy protections by their involvement in intercepting and disclosing email from the governor’s hijacked email account.

The lawsuit in federal district court seeks civil damages and was filed by four people whose email was disclosed, including a former Martinez aide who had an email bank record intercepted and released.

Among those sued were Albuquerque lawyer Sam Bregman, who became Democratic chairman last year, and the governor’s ex-campaign manager Jamie Estrada, who pleaded guilty last week to hijacking Martinez’s campaign email system in 2011 and intercepting electronic communications.

Estrada, in his guilty plea, said he provided intercepted emails to the governor’s political opponents knowing that they would disseminate them to others.

The lawsuit alleges that emails were intercepted and disclosed by the defendants “for their own illegal and improper reasons, whether to score political points, to attempt to embarrass individuals and/or simply to invade their privacy.”

Bregman said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit, but “it apparently is the Republican attempt to use the judicial system to further their political circus.”

“I am confident that any allegations made against me will be dismissed summarily,” Bregman said.

Also sued were Democratic political consultant Jason Loera, former Martinez campaign aide Anissa Ford and Michael Corwin, executive director of a liberal political action committee that was sharply critical of the governor and released a number of emails to the media.

Corwin said emails released through his website involved the conduct of governmental business by the Martinez administration and “constituted public records” under state law. He said he had provided emails to Attorney General Gary King’s office at the request of one of its investigators.

“As will be shown in court, this case is really about open government and free speech,” Corwin said in a statement.

David Serna, a lawyer for Loera in a separate criminal case, said he expected Loera to be vindicated.

Lawyers for other defendants said they hadn’t seen the lawsuit or they didn’t immediately respond to email and telephone requests for comment.

Martinez officials have described Estrada and Ford as disgruntled former employees who weren’t hired for jobs when the governor took office.

Estrada served briefly as Martinez’s campaign manager in 2009 as she was beginning her bid for governor. He took control of the campaign’s email system after Martinez became governor in 2011. Martinez has said Estrada was fired, but he has maintained he left to run for an elective office.

Messages by Martinez, her aides and others through the campaign email system didn’t go to intended recipients and were directed to a computer account controlled by Estrada.

According to FBI affidavits in Estrada’s case, Loera, Ford and Estrada regularly communicated with each other. The FBI has said some hijacked emails were sent from a Loera-controlled account to Bregman and others.

Bregman used an administration email in a hearing when he represented a state prison official appealing his firing. The appeal was dropped, but the FBI used that email to trace the campaign-account hijacking to Estrada.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants conspired to violate the federal Wiretap Act and violated another law protecting electronic communications.

One of the lawyers handling the lawsuit is Mark Braden, who is a former general counsel of the Republican National Committee and works for a prominent law firm in Washington, D.C. Braden has represented New Mexico Republicans in redistricting lawsuits.

Bringing the lawsuit were former Martinez aides Brian Moore and Kim Ronquillo; Crystal Amaya, a friend of Ronquillo; and Brad Cates, a former state legislator.


Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

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