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Southern New Mexico rancher Scott Chandler has agreed to settle a defamation lawsuit he filed alleging political advisor Jay McCleskey and a now-defunct political action committee circulating untrue mailings about him during a 2016 campaign.
McCleskey announced the deal, and Chandler confirmed Tuesday that he had negotiated the deal with McCleskey’s insurance company The Hartford.
But he said McCleskey announced the deal “ahead of time” before a definitive agreement is signed and Chandler receives a check from the insurance company.
“Until we see signatures with Jay, (The) Hartford and me, it is an active case,” said Chandler in a written statement. “As I said, until your cattle check clears the bank, it still isn’t finalized.”
The settlement agreement was reached just three days after Chandler filed a motion on Nov. 1 asking a judge to add the former governor. Susana Martinez as the defendant in the case. The motion was based on statements McCleskey made in a recent statement that Martinez was key in building the Advance New Mexico Now PAC.
“The court had not yet allowed Chandler to include Governor Martinez in the case,” McCleskey said in a written statement at the time of the settlement on November 4. “Because my insurance company stepped in and settled the matter, the court does not have to rule on the motion for the addition of Governor Martinez.”
Attempts to reach Martinez for comment last week were unsuccessful.
Chandler did not disclose the settlement amount, but said he would publish it if the parties allow him to do so in the case.
“As soon as we have a publication that shows that we can report the amount paid, we will,” he said.
Chandler’s 2019 lawsuit alleged McCleskey and Advance New Mexico Now PAC circulated two mailers about Chandler in order to hurt his chances of winning a 2016 Republican area code for House District 32. Chandler lost the primary by 16 votes.
The lawsuit alleged that McCleskey and the PAC mailed leaflets during the 2016 primaries asking, “How did a company accused of child abuse and torture AVOID government oversight?” Sent out House District 32 voters in Luna, Hidalgo, and Grant Counties.
The leaflets referred to a 2013 New Mexico State Police investigation into Chandler’s Tierra Blanca High Country Youth Program in Hillsboro, north of Deming. No charges were brought as a result of the investigation.
Chandler has received approximately $ 1 million in legal settlements from the state in connection with the investigation. The libel suit against McCleskey also alleges that McCleskey advised the then government. Martinez to conduct a state police search of Chandler’s ranch in October 2013.
Chandler asked a judge in the 6th Judicial District Court on November 1 to add Martinez to the lawsuit, alleging McCleskey recently involved the former governor as a key actor in the PAC who “directly authorized the distribution of the leaflets.”
McCleskey made the comments during a testimony on Aug. 10 in a related lawsuit McCleskey filed against his insurance company. In that lawsuit, McCleskey alleged that the company refused to pay its litigation costs in the Chandler lawsuit.
In his testimony, McCleskey said Martinez was involved in setting up and running the PAC, which is no longer active, the motion says.
“Governor Martinez was involved in running the PAC, including making decisions about proposed budgets, proposed goals and proposed districts,” the motion reads. “She participated in voting meetings and received voting information.”
The motion says McCleskey described Martinez’s role in the PAC. According to the request, McCleskey said:
■ Martinez authorized him to say on behalf of the PAC that Chandler was not a good candidate for House District 32 general election.
■ Martinez approved the content of the leaflets aimed at Chandler.
■ Martinez was “the first” to authorize the PAC to distribute the flyers and was consulted throughout the process.
■ He identified himself and Martinez as the two people most directly involved in approving the mailer.
McCleskey is a prominent GOP advisor who twice helped Martinez win the governor’s race and served as an advisor in her administration.