Democrats are resurrecting their search for undisclosed records from Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s time as a staff attorney at the Department of Human Services, filing a lawsuit they hope will provide fodder for an election campaign against the incumbent Republican.
The lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Friday by a staff member of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, seeks to force the Department of Human Services to turn over records left out of Rutledge’s publicly released personnel file, as well as emails between Rutledge’s former supervisors related to her job performance.
Reed Brewer, a communications director with the state party, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the complete file on July 2, according to the lawsuit, but the Human Services Department denied disclosure of some portions due to “public interest issues.”
Rutledge quit working as an attorney for the agency in 2007 to work on former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign.
After she left, her personnel file was amended to say hat she was terminated for gross misconduct, according to portions released during Rutledge’s first successful run for attorney general four years ago. Emails between her bosses included in the file also show Rutledge’s name was added to a “do-not-rehire” list.
No documents were included in Rutledge’s record explaining what happened.
“All taxpayers have a right to know the basis of her termination,” said Chris Burks, an attorney representing Brewer. “The attorney general is responsible for law enforcement and millions of tax dollars.”
Following a news conference held by Burks in the state Capitol Rotunda on Friday morning, Rutledge’s campaign released a statement accusing the Democratic Party of Arkansas of “dragging up decade-old fake news.”
“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,” Rutledge said. “Arkansans, just like all Americans, are tired of dishonest Democratic bureaucrats altering files and changing records for political purposes.”
Democrats view Rutledge as one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans in Arkansas in the Nov. 6 election, noting that she received the fewest votes of any Republican running in a statewide race in 2014. She took office in January 2015.
Her Democratic opponent this year, Mike Lee, is a former toy regulator at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Lee held his own news conference Friday at his campaign headquarters calling on Rutledge to allow for the full release of her record. He promised to disclose any documents related to his own work history.
Arkansas’ Freedom of Information Act allows personnel records that are otherwise exempt from public disclosure to be provided to the person who is the subject of the records. Burks said that Rutledge could request the records herself and re- lease them.
“What is she hiding and why won’t she release the documents?” Burks said.
In another statement Friday, Rutledge said she has “no confidence” in the contents of the redacted records, due to alterations that her former supervisors made in the public parts of her personnel file.
Friday’s lawsuit names Department of Human Services Director Cindy Gillespie as the defendant. A spokeswoman for the agency said staff were reviewing to ensure that all responsive documents were provided to Brewer, based on his request.
The lawsuit was assigned to Circuit Judge Tim Fox. A hearing has been set for Aug. 20.
In recent years, Rutledge became a recurring television surrogate for President Donald Trump and chairwoman of the national Republican Attorneys General Association.
Burks, a private attorney who often represents Democrats in suits against state officials, said both the Democratic Party of Arkansas and the Democratic Attorneys General Association were paying legal fees for the suit.
Rutledge’s re-election bid — as well as her past employment at the Department of Human Services — has already risen in national profile.
In late July, the online news site Salon had an article about a 2007 email Rutledge sent to her colleagues at the Human Services Department that mimicked a conversation between a social worker and a father involved in a child custody dispute.
The email was first published by an Arkansas blogger during Rutledge’s 2014 campaign, and drew condemnation for its racial connotations. Rutledge defended herself at the time, saying she had simply forwarded the email “without comment.”
http://www.arkansas…">National group targets Rutledge in election