The release of nine pages of documents related to Leslie Rutledge’s work at the Department of Human Services in 2007 indicate a complaint about her work was raised in November, shortly before she abruptly resigned as a DHS lawyer. Questions had also been raised earlier about her work on two adoption cases.
As noted before, superiors placed a note in her file saying she should not be rehired and said the reason for her termination was “gross misconduct.” DHS and Rutledge have refused to elaborate.
A previous e-mail release under an FOI request revealed little about Rutledge’s work in the Division of Children and Family Services, often in juvenile court. I had noted in that release of materials, however, a terse note Nov. 15 from a supervisor, Kay Forrest, asking to meet with Rutledge. Asked why, Forrest responded: “We need to discuss several things specifically the subpoena for ACH.”
Nine pages of documents previously withheld were released today and they provide background leading up to that meeting.
One is copy of a letter from Carol Maxwell, director of social work, at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH) to Lisa McGee, the supervisor who put the “do not rehire” note in Rutledge’s file. The Oct. 31, 2007 letter said a social worker, Maka Parnell, had received a subpoena to testify in juvenile court Oct. 29 for a child maltreatment report. A hospital worker reportedly tried twice to call Rutledge to determine if the testimony was needed, to confirm the date and to discuss what was expected. “She did not receive a return call or message so she went to court without any direct contact with the attorney who requested her presence,” Maxwell wrote.
The social worker went to court and was told the case was scheduled for 2 p.m.. Time passed but nobody called Parnell to testify. By 4 p.m., the social worker was told everyone was gone for the evening. Wrote Maxwell:
This is the most recent example of difficulties encountered by my staff summoned to court. While we are most agreeable to providing testimony when needed, there appears to be poor follow through by the attorneys regarding court appearances. I know we have had these discussions before so I am open to your suggestion of what can be done to improve this process.”
In an e-mail Nov. 2, Kay Forrest asked Rutledge about the matter. She responded she had covered the hearing for another lawyer who had issued the subpoena and did introduce the report of the social worker at the hearing. She said she “inherited the [redacted] case in October, too. No excuses….just FYI.” Rutledge commented in a separate e-mail:
“Again, I can only apologize for Ms. Parnell not participating in the hearing. Certainly, had any of the parties been aware of her presence, she would have been called. … In the future I will have a list of those individuals who have been subpoenaed by the Dept and ask Mr. Gaines [a court employee] to check the lobby for them.”
Files released today also included an exchange of e-mails between Rutledge and Kay Forrest in July. Forrest said July 23 she had been notified that Rutledge had done two adoptions in March before a subsidy was approved for the adoptive family. “If this was done it means that the child may not receive a subsidy,” Forrest wrote. She reminded Rutledge that this point was covered in training. Subsequent e-mails indicate Rutledge believed the problems arose elsewhere and at one point Forrest herself said an adoption worker might have made a mistake. The full record isn’t available because e-mails have been withheld, apparently because they could be construed as evaluations of Rutledge’s work. Evaluations are exempt from disclosure unless an employee is suspended or fired. Sometimes employees are allowed to resign in lieu of firing as a means of keeping employment matters confidential.
On July 25, Forrest wrote to Rutledge:
Breck [Hopkins, DHS chief counsel] suggested that you and the AAL [attorney ad litem] file a joint motion to set aside the decrees and then reenter the decrees if we know the subsidy is approved. DID you file the financial form with these adoptions??? kay
At a minimum, then, there’s a sketchy record of some employment issues for Rutledge, including immediately before her departure Dec. 3. Rutledge met with Forrest Thursday, Nov. 15. That’s the last day a request for Rutledge e-mail produced any documents at DHS, either to or from her. She was gone officially two weeks later, effective Monday, Dec. 3.
I’ve sought comments from Rutledge and her campaign. They have not responded.
The Democratic Party has joined the fray, with a statement from Party Chair Vince Insalaco.
“Arkansans deserve to know why the Republican candidate for Attorney General has a personnel record at the Department of Human Services that says ‘gross misconduct.’ DHS says she is the kind of employee that they ‘do not rehire.’ Why? We don’t know because Rutledge is the only person that can release the information to the public—and she refuses to do it.
As a candidate for our state’s top attorney, Leslie Rutledge should not have to be forced to release emails that voters deserve to know. Honesty and transparency should not be this hard to come by. If Arkansas voters can’t trust that Leslie Rutledge will be honest and transparent with them as a candidate, then they certainly can’t trust that she will be honest and transparent as their Attorney General.”
Rutledge has earlier tried to blame questions about her work on the fact that she went to work for Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign and a Democrat, Mike Beebe, was governor. He says he’d never heard of Leslie Rutledge until she ran for attorney general.