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Arkansas Attorney General's Departure From State Agency Subject Of Democratic Party Lawsuit

Daniel Breen
Lawyer Chris Burks speaks at a press conference today along with Reed Brewer, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's departure from the state Department of Human Services more than a decade ago is the subject of a new lawsuit filed Thursday on behalf of the state Democratic Party.

The lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court on behalf of party spokesman Reed Brewer, alleges the Department of Human Services violated the Freedom of Information Act by withholding parts of Rutledge's personnel file during her time as a staff attorney at the department.

Brewer originally filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Republican's complete file in early July but was only granted part of the document as a result of "public interest issues." Brewer's attorney, Chris Burks, told reporters gathered at the Capitol that the reasons behind Rutledge's exit from the department are of interest to the public, contrary to the department’s decision.

Democratic attorney general candidate Mike Lee speaks with reporters at his downtown Little Rock office.

"The attorney general is responsible for law enforcement and millions of taxpayer dollars. Every taxpayer deserves to know the documents that show why Leslie Rutledge was terminated as an attorney for the State of Arkansas," Burks said.

Documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show Rutledge was terminated in late 2007, shortly before accepting a position on former Governor Mike Huckabee's presidential campaign.

In a statement, Rutledge said she was never fired from the department and that her supervisors altered her personnel action form by crossing out the "voluntary" option relating to her departure from the agency.

"As I said in 2014 and the record is clear: I voluntarily resigned my position with DHS on December 3, 2007, to immediately begin working on my friend and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's 2008 presidential campaign," the statement reads. "On December 13, 2007 — ten days after my voluntary resignation — my former supervisors at DHS scratched out 'voluntary' and altered my personnel file to reflect something that was completely false without any notice to me or legal justification for doing so.

"Arkansans, just like all Americans, are tired of dishonest Democratic bureaucrats altering files and changing records for political purposes," the statement continues.

Rutledge's Request for Personnel Action form was released in 2014 before her first successful bid for attorney general. In addition, an email released from Rutledge's former supervisor indicates she was placed on a "do-not-rehire" list following her termination.

Rutledge's Democratic challenger in the attorney general race, Mike Lee, told reporters that what is known about Rutledge's exit suggests her conduct at the department deserves closer scrutiny.

"The public deserves to know the employment history of anyone they intend to hire; whether it be a DHS attorney or the attorney general. And we don't know what Leslie Rutledge's true work history is," Lee said.

The statement from Rutledge, provided to Arkansas Public Media through a campaign spokesman, accuses state Democrats of running a smear campaign for political gain.

"The desperate Democratic Party and my opponent are dragging up decade-old fake news and once again lying to voters, but Arkansans are much smarter than the Democrats give them credit for being," the statement reads. "The voters saw through this deceptive nonsense in 2014 when they rejected it at the polls, and they will see through the liberal lies again this November."

A ruling on the case by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox could come within days of the lawsuit's filing. A request for comment from the Department of Human Services was not immediately returned.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! 

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter for Arkansas Public Media.
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