Word just in that Circuit Judge Tim Fox has ordered from the bench that the state’s Department of Human Services must release the personnel files on Leslie Rutledge that have previously been hidden from public view. UPDATE: Rutledge is howling, but offering little defense.
Rutledge, a previous DHS staffer who is now the state Attorney General, was placed on a “do not rehire” status after her departure from the agency after she left the agency in late 2007 to work on Mike Huckabee’s campaign for president. She had spent about a year as an attorney with the Division of Children and Family Services for the DHS.
The issue of Rutledge’s personnel records first popped up during the 2014 campaign for attorney general. A review of records supplied to the Arkansas Blog by the DHS under the Freedom of Information Act revealed the “do not rehire” note from the supervisor (see above). Rutledge said at the time she thought this was perhaps a reference to her leaving without giving sufficient notice. A supervisor, in a note added to her file 10 days after she left, stated the reason was “gross misconduct.”
Attempts at further investigation were stonewalled when a small batch of emails was withheld from release, with the DHS stating that they were exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. Rutledge could have authorized their release on her own, but refused.
Earlier this month, Democratic Party spokesman Reed Brewer filed an FOIA lawsuit in Pulaski County Circuit Court to try to force the DHS to release the personnel records, with party attorney Chris Burks handling legal work.
The DHS confirmed to Burks the existence of records that had not been released in previous examinations of Rutledge’s record at the agency and said that they were being withheld due to privacy concerns.
Fox reviewed the contested documents in private. In his order, he found that they related to Rutledge’s work with foster children and that they related to her job performance. He is holding the documents until the written order is entered, likely in the next day or two.
“I believe this is a win for taxpayers, for public disclosure and in small part for an active Democratic Party that holds politicians accountable,” Burks stated in an email.
Rutledge has previously called the effort to produce full disclosure of these records “fake news.” We’ll see!
But she has a lot of explaining to do, particularly given that the judge revealed she’d applied for unemployment benefits and had been denied them for reasons of “gross misconduct.” You can claim unemployment if you resign in Arkansas for “good cause,” but there’s no showing Rutledge did that.
UPDATE: The Rutledge campaign issued this statement;
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.
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.
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. 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.
As the record clearly shows, I voluntarily resigned my position with DHS on December 3, 2007, in a letter to my supervisors (Breck Hopkins, Lisa McGee, Kay Forrest, and Misty Bowen-Eubanks). I immediately began working on my friend and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign on December 4, 2007. Previously released email correspondence demonstrates that all of my former supervisors at DHS received and accepted my resignation:
McGee emailed to Hopkins on December 3, 2007, at 12:32 p.m., “Leslie submitted her resignation, effective immediately, and is leaving today.”
McGee emailed to all attorneys in the DHS Office of Chief Counsel on December 4, 2007, at 12:38 p.m., “Leslie Rutledge quit yesterday. She is flying out today to work on the Huckabee for President Campaign.”
McGee emailed Tonya Tackett, Bowen-Eubanks and Sheila Farmer on December 7, 2007, at 11:14 a.m., “Please send an email to your staff informing them that Leslie Rutledge quit on Monday, December 3, 2007.”
However, on December 12, 2007, at 3:35 p.m., McGee emailed Judy Besancon and Bowen-Eubanks, “Please put a do-not-rehire on Leslie. Breck said I can request this.”
And 10 days after my voluntary resignation, on December 13, 2007, at 6:30 a.m., Besancon emailed Nan Black (cc’d McGee, Hopkins, Bowen-Eubanks), “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. Further, my personnel file appears to include a document from January 13, 2009 (over one year after my resignation), erroneously stating that I was discharged.
* She does not explain why she had good cause to file unemployment.
* She does not address her handling of foster care cases.
* She does not say why she won’t agree to release all records.
* She doesn’t say why she has reason to hide those records.
* She doesn’t talk about her spotty employment record (longest tenure ever is as attorney general, where she hires others at big pay to do the work.)
* She didn’t explain why she asked for unemployment benefits.
* She didn’t explain why she’d been denied them.
FURTHER UPDATE: The Democrat-Gazette reported Tuesday that Rutledge issued a statement late Monday in which she denied having sought unemployment benefits in 2007 after leaving DHS. She said she had sought them in 2009, after leaving a Republican National Committee job, and that it was then that the DHS statement about “gross misconduct” arose. She contends she’s
Don’t overlook the key point in her short and inglorious tenure at DHS: Mishandling of juvenile cases.
We were on this case long ago, though it got no traction. Read here about Rutledge’s poor work: She mishandled at least three cases according to records I dug up in 2014. And if Max may quote himself from 2014:
Rutledge has had at least nine jobs since graduating from law school in 2001 and the work has left few notable marks. Apart from a few months in private practice in Jacksonville and her establishment of a personal law fim in Little Rock when she returned from Washington after the 2012 election, her jobs have been in partisan political or government/patronage positions. A family friend hired her as Court of Appeals law clerk; she worked for 14 months for a Republican prosecutor (on which she bases her campaign claim that she’s an “experienced” prosecutor); she worked 10 months for Gov. Mike Huckabee before an abrupt departure (she had no immediate new job when she left and didn’t find one with the Lonoke prosecutor a couple of months); she worked for the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and the Republican National Committee. A search of the state and federal eastern district court databases turns up no cases in which Rutledge has participated as a lawyer since a divorce case in 2007.
Work history counts. To borrow from Rutledge, it’s hard to have confidence in her ability based on the sketchiness of her resume. She should open the doors to a full inspection of her work for children in distress. She won’t.