CONWAY -- A Republican sued the county judge of Faulkner County, Jim Baker, a Democrat seeking re-election, on Wednesday for refusing to provide public emails requested under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
The lawsuit, filed in circuit court by Bob Gregory, followed his Oct. 25 request for emails sent and received by Baker at the county judge's public email address since Aug. 1.
Republican Damon Edwards, a former justice of the peace, is challenging Baker's re-election bid. Edwards has been the county's tax assessor since August 2017 when the Quorum Court appointed him to fill an unexpired term.
Gregory made the public-records request after he learned of an email that Baker sent on Oct. 24 to numerous people in response to an email advising him that a water infrastructure measure had been signed into federal law. The measure included an initiative that addresses modernizing such infrastructure, especially in rural areas.
In his reply from his government-owned email account, Baker wrote, "This is great, right now I am trying to get votes for re elect to help on these issues. Please contact all you can to go vote,......I need it."
The lawsuit includes a photograph of Baker's email.
Public officials are not allowed under state law to use their government-owned email accounts for their campaigns.
Gregory's lawsuit says that after he didn't get the requested documents, he talked with county attorney David Hogue. According to Gregory, "Hogue ... stated that [Baker] refused to turn over the materials requested by [Gregory]. Neither [Baker] and nor any representatives of Faulkner County have given any justification for refusing to release the requested documents."
Contacted by phone Wednesday, Baker declined comment on the lawsuit. He had previously not responded to requests for comment on the email that led to the public-records request.
Earlier this week, Baker did comply with a separate public-records request by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for emails he had sent or received during the past month via his county address. The newspaper on Wednesday also asked for public emails sent or received by Edwards, and Edwards has asked Hogue to help meet that request.
Gregory's lawsuit asks the court to order Baker to turn over the requested documents and to pay Gregory's related legal expenses.
Online records indicate the case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Chris Carnahan.
State Desk on 11/01/2018