A Pulaski County Judge ruled Monday in a political tussle over previous state employment records of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, but answers to many of the questions are far from complete.
Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox ruled from the bench, ordering the release of Rutledge’s job performance records regarding her work as an attorney with the Arkansas Department of Human Services in 2007, seven years before she was elected to her present office.
According to the Democratic Party of Arkansas, which filed the request for release, Judge Fox ordered the release of an email that shows Rutledge sought unemployment benefits, and DHS denied her in confirming that she was fired for “gross misconduct.” Copies of this exchange were not released and Rutledge disputes the allegations.
“Today’s case is simply an ongoing attempt by the desperate Democrats to rehash old news in an attempt to prop up their failed candidate. They failed in 2014 and voters are smart enough to see this for what it is,” Rutledge said. “The decision reached by a liberal judge is not about me. It is a dangerous decision that is not only a clear misinterpretation of the Freedom of Information Act, but most importantly, it puts thousands of current and former government employees in jeopardy of having their records distorted by vindictive former supervisors or other former coworkers and improperly released long after they voluntarily leave a government job.”
Chris Burks, attorney for the lead plaintiff, Reed Brewer, the communications director for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said the court ruling on Monday was a step forward in learning more about Rutledge’s public job performance at DHS that resulted in what he calls “an involuntary termination.”
“Judge Fox’s order is a victory for taxpayers and voters,” said Burks. “There should be no secret files on our politicians. All Arkansans have a right to information so voters can hold government accountable.”
Rutledge’s 2018 challenger for AG, Democrat Mike Lee, issued a statement on Twitter after hearing of the court ruling and Rutledge’s initial reaction.
“[I’m] disappointed to learn my opponent is still blaming ‘fake news’ on her ‘termination’ at DHS for ‘gross misconduct’ in relation to foster children. I take responsibility for my work and I urge each Arkansan to do the same,” Lee said.
Rutledge released copies of emails that were redacted, but do show she voluntarily quit her job at DHS in December 2007 to work on former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. The emails show an exchange between Rutledge’s superiors that she left to join the Huckabee bid.
Rutledge claims that nine days after she left DHS, supervisor Lisa McGee asked for a “do not rehire” status on Rutledge’s position. On Dec. 13, 2007 a request was made by DHS personnel to “please code the recent resignation of Leslie Rutledge (Personnel # _____) so she cannot be hired again with the Department.”
“Clearly, 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, even though they had received my letter of resignation and had acknowledged my resignation,” Rutledge said.
Rutledge said her file was altered from a voluntary departure to an involuntary discharge without her knowledge. She said Fox’s ruling is erroneous and she’s weighing an appeal.
“Although current DHS officials acknowledge that I voluntarily resigned and that documents should not be released, the circuit judge has applied an erroneous standard in determining that these records should be released,” said Rutledge. “Whether or not I personally intervene in this case and ask that it be appealed will be based solely on the law and to ensure that the scales of justice will not support such vindictive, malicious acts by former supervisors of employees who leave a government job on their own volition. Former supervisors cannot and should not be allowed to falsely alter an individual’s personnel file at any time, much less after the employee has voluntarily resigned.”
Judge Fox’s order called for the release of an email showing Rutledge sought unemployment benefits – a move that would typically occur if an employee had been terminated. Employers can easily deny unemployment claims for workers who leave on their own.
Rutledge said reports that she pursued unemployment benefits in the wake of her departure from DHS are inaccurate. She acknowledged that she filed for unemployment in 2009 after the 2008 presidential campaign effort led to her being laid off from a national GOP organization. She said she did not file for unemployment after her departure from DHS.
“When I voluntarily resigned from DHS on December 3, 2007, I immediately went to work for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign. After the campaign ended, I worked for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in DC. I did apply for unemployment in DC in January of 2009 after the NRCC downsized staff following the November 2008 elections,” Rutledge said.
“Apparently, the DC government sent something to DHS and others to verify employment for previous years and DHS sent back a form (in 2009 — over a year after I resigned) stating incorrectly that I was discharged because those former supervisors had it coded that way after I left. I was not aware this form existed or that it was placed in my file until this lawsuit. It is yet another example of how incorrect and bad information has been erroneously or maliciously placed in my personnel file,” Rutledge added.