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Arkansas Sen. Jason Rapert getting AG aid in lawsuit over social media blocks

by John Moritz | October 5, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.
Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, is shown in this file photo.

The Arkansas attorney general's office will represent state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, in a lawsuit over the senator's banning of critics on his social media accounts, court filings show.

Two lawyers in the office, Solicitor General Nicholas Bronni and Assistant Solicitor General Dylan Jacobs, filed notices Thursday to appear on behalf of Rapert in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Rapert was sued in federal court earlier this week by four Arkansans who accused him of violating their free-speech rights when he blocked them from his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The plaintiffs, who said they were atheists, had posted remarks critical of Rapert, who is also the founder of Holy Ghost Ministries and one of the principal backers of the effort to place a monument of the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds. They were joined in the lawsuit by American Atheists Inc., based in New Jersey.

The lawsuit is similar to several other cases around the country that have challenged whether public officials have the right to block citizens from commenting -- effectively shutting them out of conversations -- on social media. A federal judge in New York ruled earlier this year that President Donald Trump cannot block people from his social media accounts, though that decision is being appealed.

After the lawsuit was filed, Rapert defended himself, saying he is "an individual citizen who also happens to be a citizen legislator." He added at the time that we was talking to several attorneys.

Rapert noted that his social media accounts are not supported by taxpayer funds.

His attorneys will be.

"I have done exactly as I have been advised to do," Rapert told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, referring a reporter to the attorney general's office for further comment.

The four Arkansans in the case, as well as American Atheists Inc., are represented by Matthew Campbell, a Little Rock attorney and blogger who is often critical of Rapert.

Campbell did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Alison Gill, a policy director for American Atheists, said in a brief interview "we would hope the attorney general would agree with us that elected officials have a responsibility to engage with their constituents."

Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Betty Jo Fernau and Robert Barringer of Conway, live in Rapert's Senate district, according to Gill.

A spokesman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge pointed to Arkansas Code Annotated 25-16-702, which says the attorney general "shall" be the attorney for state officials and agencies, when such legal services are requested.

Metro on 10/05/2018

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