Gov. Mike Beebe said Tuesday that Secretary of State Mark Martin’s unilateral decision to hire $200-anhour attorneys with taxpayer money violated state law and undermines public trust in government.
But in a written statement, Martin replied that he’s disappointed with Beebe’s “partisan leap to judgment that is beneath the dignity of the office of the governor.”
A day after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox sided with lawyer, blogger and Martin foe Matt Campbell, who challenged the legality of Martin hiring outside attorneys to represent him in a lawsuit Campbell filed, and after Martin’s office said he intends to challenge the ruling, Beebe said the state law is “real clear” to him.
“You got to get the [attorney general’s] permission and you got to get a governor’s permission when you hire outside counsel [as a constitutional officer],” said Beebe, who has been governor since 2007 and was attorney general from 2003-2007.
Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel are Democrats. Martin is a Republican.
“It’s like this Shoffner thing,” Beebe said.
“Anytime you have got a statewide constitutional officer that does something like this it really causes all of us to look like we have got problems,” Beebe said. “So the trust of the people in their elected officials is something that you have to constantly try to promote. And, you know, sometimes it doesn’t work. And sometimes you see things like what happened to our treasurer and now what’s happening here with the secretary of state that impacts that trust, but you’ve just got to keep going and try to do your best to make it better.”
Former state Treasurer Martha Shoffner, a Democrat, resigned May 21.
A federal grand jury handed up an indictment in June charging her with extortion and bribery over purportedly accepting $36,000 in payments from an unnamed broker to whom she handed over the lion’s share of the state’s bond business.She has pleaded innocent to six counts of extortion, one count of attempted extortion and seven counts of accepting a bribe as an agent of state government. Her trial is set for March 3.
In his written statement, Martin condemned Beebe’s comments.
“The comparison Gov. Beebe made with our office and the alleged bribery of the former state treasurer is slanderous rhetoric, and Arkansans deserve better. Even the judge said it was a case of first impression according to the newspaper account this morning,” Martin said.
Although Martin has two staff attorneys, he has hired several outside attorneys to handle a variety of matters, spending more than $100,000 on the services, according to Campbell.
Martin spokesman Alex Reed said there was no objection from the governor or attorney general the first time Martin’s office used outside counsel, and that a spokesman for the attorney general said two years ago that the attorney general’s approval is needed only if there is special language in an agency appropriation bill that states such approval is specifically required.
“Since then, we have followed that generally understood interpretation of the law. There is no secret about what we have done. We have been open and transparent as in the [legislative] redistricting case. At one time we asked the [attorney general] to represent us. He accepted then withdrew,” Reed said.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor’s “concern is how the taxpayers’ money was spent, not whether Martin’s feelings were hurt.
“Acting insulted does not change Judge Fox’s ruling that Secretary Martin’s actions violated state law,” he said. “Gov. Beebe’s point is that any violation of the law by any constitutional officer of any party damages the public’s trust in their elected officials.”
McDaniel said in a written statement that each state agency head knows that outside counsel cannot be hired without legislative authority or approval from the governor.
“Many agencies have special language in their budgets allowing them to do so,” he said. “The secretary of state has never asked for our permission or our advice on this matter. I did not know that he had failed to obtain legislative authority to retain outside counsel until this motion was filed. Failing to do so was a serious mistake, but Mr. Martin should not be angry at the governor or anyone else for the errors he and his staff have made.”
Attorney Asa Hutchinson, who is now running for the Republican nomination for governor after losing to Beebe in the 2006 election, represented Martin’s office in the legislative redistricting case and was paid $200 per hour.
Beebe said he “never put two and two together about the fact that [Martin’s office] didn’t contact us” about hiring Hutchinson.
“I know that [Martin] had a different position than we did so it was fair to assume that he felt there would have been a conflict of interest for the same lawyer and consequently went out and got his own lawyer, but I didn’t think much about whether or not he had talked to the AG about it at the time,” he said.
A spokesman for the state Democratic Party, Candace Martin, said Monday that Martin violated state law in hiring outside legal counsel based on Fox’s ruling and the offense should be referred to a prosecutor.
“This also raises huge questions about Asa Hutchinson’s involvement in Mark Martin’s illegal activities. Will Asa return the Arkansas tax dollars paid to his law firm that violate Arkansas law?” asked Martin.
Asked whether Hutchinson should pay funds that his law firm receive from Martin’s office, Beebe said, “I am not going to get in the middle of that.”
Beebe later added, “I doubt that an illegal exaction lawsuit would actually be addressed against Mr. Hutchinson. I think it would be addressed against the secretary of state’s office of the state of Arkansas and that the money would have to come from taxpayer funds so you end up paying twice.”
Hutchinson said he spent a week in court representing Martin’s office in a complex legislative redistricting case considering whether blacks had equal voting rights.
Hutchinson said McDaniel had a conflict of interest and that’s why Hutchinson was hired to represent Martin and McDaniel didn’t raise objections to the court about that.
“Our representation was necessary, justified and critical to the court’s proper resolution of that case,” he said.