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Little Rock blogger requests $8,557 in legal fees over FOIA lawsuit against city, mayor

by John Lynch | November 16, 2022 at 9:12 a.m.
Great Seal of Arkansas in a court room in Washington County. Thursday, June 21, 2018,

Little Rock lawyer Matt Campbell, the Blue Hog Report blogger, says the City of Little Rock should be court-ordered to pay him $8,557 to cover his expenses to sue for public records city officials admit were illegally withheld from him.

The amount breaks down to $300 per hour for the 27.9 hours Campbell spent researching and litigating his Freedom of Information lawsuit against the city, plus the $185 filing fee and $2 he spent on parking to attend the October hearing in which the city's legal counsel admitted the records, many of them involving Mayor Frank Scott Jr.'s failed LITFest project, were wrongfully withheld.

The Little Rock Board of Directors at a meeting on Tuesday approved a resolution authorizing a settlement with Campbell in a voice vote as part of the board's consent agenda. The resolution authorizes the city attorney to pay Campbell $8,600, subject to four conditions, one of them that a judgment of dismissal of the complaint with prejudice is entered into court records.

Campbell has been investigating the mayor for weeks, posting documents and his findings on his blog. He has reported that Scott "at his very core, a dishonest person," has regularly lied and otherwise acted deceptively to direct city funds and property to some of his supporters.

The decision on how much the city should have to pay is up to the presiding judge, Chip Welch, and the city will get a chance to challenge Campbell's request before the judge decides.

Despite the city's acknowledgement of wrongdoing, the case is not resolved because Campbell has since accused Scott of not turning over personal cell phone records that Campbell says he's entitled to under the open-records law.

Scott has been ordered to appear before Welch today to answer questions about the phone records. City lawyers say they've turned over everything required by the court so far, denying that Scott's personal phone records are subject to the open-records law the way that Campbell claims.

If the judge is not satisfied with the answers he gets today, he could hold the mayor in contempt and subject him to jail, fines or both.

Campbell states in court filings that he learned Scott withheld phone records at a Nov. 1 city council meeting. Scott stated then he had tried to call City Director Capi Peck using his personal cell phone.

Peck later told Campbell that Scott has always used his personal phone when he called her to talk about city business.

Those claims contradict earlier Scott statements in which he has denied ever using his personal phone for any city business, Campbell stated in court filings. Scott's use of his personal phone makes it subject to the Freedom of Information Act, an assertion city lawyers agree with, to a point.

That's a point that the judge will have to resolve. Campbell argues that the mayor's personal cell phone is not entitled to any special consideration under the open-records law and must be treated like a city-owned phone.

In response, City Attorney Tom Carpenter and deputy Alan Jones deny wrongdoing, stating that the city has now acted expeditiously to comply with the court and the law.

But they deny that the specific phone records Campbell wants fall under the open-records law because Campbell is seeking materials beyond those used for the mayor's duties.

Further, the city lawyers assert that Campbell's vision of the Freedom of Information Act is far more expansive than the law has ever been interpreted.

"Compliance with such a standard would be near, if not completely, impossible and would take the [open-records law away from a law intended to keep the citizenry 'advised of the performance of public officials and the of the decisions that are reached in public activity and in making public policy' by transforming it into an administrative weapon to be used against any public employee a citizen wants to target," the lawyers stated in a pleading. "Granted, the [Freedom of Information Act] is to be construed liberally, but to be construed liberally does not mean it is limitless.

In other action in the case, city lawyers say they can't fulfill all of Campbell's records request because some of the materials Campbell wants are being held by Think Rubix LLC, the company hired to put on the LITfest program. Those materials include a contract with the singer Ashanti to perform at LITFest. At the request of the city, with Campbell in agreement, the judge added Think Rubix as a defendant in the suit last week, although it's unclear whether the company has been served notice of the suit.

Information for this report was provided by Joe Flaherty of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Print Headline: Little Rock blogger seeks court order for expenses


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