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Suit keys on emails of official

He revealed few, not all, it alleges by Brandon Mulder | June 23, 2016 at 3:33 a.m.

The emails of a Jefferson County election commissioner are the subject of a lawsuit filed by Little Rock attorney Lawrence Walker.

In March, Walker submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to Stu Soffer, instructing Soffer to turn over all emails related to his official capacities as a Jefferson County election commissioner and as a Republican appointee on the state Board of Election Commissioners.

After Soffer responded to that request providing only a few emails -- saying he usually deletes correspondence as it becomes unneeded -- Walker filed a lawsuit to obtain Soffer's emails through court orders.

As part of that lawsuit, Walker obtained through a separate Freedom of Information request to the state Department of Treasury hundreds of emails and documents sent to and received from Soffer. According to court documents filed in the lawsuit Wednesday, the emails obtained from the Treasury Department should have been turned over in his original request and "prove that the defendant has not fully complied with the plaintiff's FOIA request."

Wednesday's filing included a selection of Soffer's emails obtained through the department, including one sent to former Treasury Department staff member David Singer -- a friend of Soffer's.

"I have the Prosecuting Attorney ready to take action to remove the county clerk. Her replacement will be appointed and I have a good idea of who it may be," Soffer wrote in May 2014. "I will offer him two of three Republican [Justices of the Peace] votes if he promises me to hire you."

In March 2015, Jefferson County Clerk Patricia Johnson was arrested by state police and charged with attempted theft, forgery and trading in public office after investigators discovered unauthorized bonuses paid to employees of the Jefferson County clerk's office without consent from the Quorum Court.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Soffer did not disclose whom he had projected to be Johnson's replacement -- who by law would be appointed by the Quorum Court with the county judge's recommendation. But Soffer said he intended to "offer support to the appointee to recommend Republicans vote for him if that person would give David a job in the clerk's office."

Walker and colleague attorney Amelia LaFont said this action constitutes unlawful corruption in public office. LaFont cited Arkansas Code 5-52-101, which states, in short, that offering any benefit as compensation to a public official for a favorable vote to another person or for "having otherwise exercised his or her discretion in favor of another person" is an abuse of public trust -- an offense that can draw a charge of up to a Class B felony.

"You got to understand that I'm a New Yorker, and my wording in that is inappropriate," Soffer said Wednesday in reference to the email. "When I said I have the prosecuting attorney ready to take action, what I should have said was 'I have documents to send to the prosecuting attorney.' I was overspeaking."

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Kyle Hunter, who serves as the legal counsel to the Election Commission and thus represents Soffer, did not return requests for comment Wednesday; nor did Singer's attorney Luther Sutter, who represents Singer in a wrongful termination case after Singer was fired from the Treasury Department last year.

Soffer also said the emails obtained through the Treasury Department, like the one written to Singer, do not pertain to his official duties as an election commissioner and that his original response to Walker's Freedom of Information request remains accurate because he does not keep emails on his computer.

However, LaFont said, destroying or deleting records to avoid transparency is a violation of Freedom of Information laws.

Walker's lawsuit was filed after Soffer drew a handgun from his pocket during an altercation with former Pine Bluff mayoral candidate Ted Davis after a disorderly Jefferson County election meeting in March. The incident has since provoked calls for Soffer's removal from the Jefferson County commission and state board by Democratic civic leaders of Pine Bluff.

"We are just trying to vindicate the rights of a citizen of Jefferson County, Mr. Ted Davis, who has been harassed and defamed by Mr. Soffer, as Mr. Davis tried to exercise his rights to vote and participate in the public affairs of his community," LaFont said.

"The goal is simply for Mr. Soffer to be held accountable for his actions, whatever the appropriate consequences might be," she added.

Metro on 06/23/2016

Print Headline: Suit keys on emails of official

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