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Lawsuits continue between Arkansas Board of Corrections, attorney general

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin (left) will speak at a statewide summit on preventing human trafficking on Oct. 16, 2023. Earlier this year, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (right) signed an executive order requiring a working group to recommend human trafficking intervention and prevention tactics to the state. The group issued its recommendations Oct. 13, 2023.
John Sykes
Arkansas Advocate
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin is suing the state Board of Corrections, saying they are not complying with the Freedom of Information Act.

A lawsuitfiled by Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin alleges the Arkansas Board of Corrections violated the Freedom of Information Act. This comes amid a longstanding conflictbetween the board and the state.

Last month, Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri attempted to add prison beds without the board's approval. Board members, like chair Benny Magness, say this violates the safety of staff and inmates.

Profiri was suspended and later fired. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has since hired him as an advisor to her office. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Patricia James has temporarily blocked two state laws giving the governor more power over the Board of Corrections.

On Monday, Attorney General Griffin filed a lawsuit alleging several misconduct allegations against the Board of Corrections. The lawsuit says the board has met in illegal executive sessions, hired outside counsel improperly and not responded to Griffin's own FOIA requests.

“The Board of Corrections has shown a complete disregard for the law, so I am asking the court to step in to compel compliance,” a statement from the attorney general said.

Under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, meetings of the Board of Corrections have to be public. This means members of the public can attend the meeting or request records after the fact.

On December 8, the Board of Corrections went into executive session for 45 minutes to discuss an “employment matter.” Griffin says this violates the law and that the meeting should have been documented and available to the public. After the December 8 meeting, the group voted 4-2 to retain Abtin Mehdizadegan, a Little Rock attorney. He is not an official state employee, which Griffin says should have prevented him from being retained.

On December 11, the Griffin sent a FOIA request to the Board of Corrections relating to Mehdizadegan's hiring. He said the documents he received in return were not related to his request which was “communications that discuss whether to hire outside counsel.” He also said he was never given the payment or communications records he asked for.

The board discussed the attorney general's request at a meeting on December 14. They met for 20 minutes in an executive session. After the private meeting, they fired Profiri as head of the Department of Corrections. The attorney general said they erred in not making an audio recording of the meeting.

The lawsuit is asking for Mehdizadegan to to be fired, and for the board to stop holding “illegal” executive sessions.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.