Attorney General Leslie Rutledge yesterday refused to allow release of records that explain the 2000 firing of Boyce Hamlet as a state trooper. Hamlet, like Rutledge, is a Republican and appointee of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to be director of enforcement at the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Division.
Russ Racop of Little Rock, who’s built a website criticizing Hamlet, had filed an FOI request for the records that constituted an explanation for his firing. The State Police was prepared to release the material, with some redactions. Hamlet objected and, as the law provides, the attorney general reviewed the request.
Rutledge herself seems to have taken on this particular opinion.
She acknowledges that the Freedom of Information Act would allow release of the material on most grounds: Hamlet’s firing was final and the records being sought were a record of his termination, which the law specifically says may be released.
But she said the request wasn’t justified by a “compelling public interest” in disclosure and she overruled the State Police decision to release the material.
The former employee’s position at the time of the infraction was very low ranking (i.e. a recruit). The fact that the former employee was not yet a certified law enforcement officer also means that the usual presumption in favor of finding a compelling interest does not apply to these records.
The infraction that lead to the subject’s termination did not involve (a) misuse of state money or resources, or (b) interactions with the public.
Further, to the extent that there was serious breach of public trust, the significant passage of time since the breach (i.e. 15 years) reduces any interest that may have existed in these records. In general, and given the circumstances, the passage of time can reduce the extent to which there is a compelling public interest. I hasten to add, however, that the passage of time—by itself—is seldom a sufficient basis to find that no compelling public interest exists. But given the nature of the infraction reflected in these records and the low-level ranking of the subject at the time of the infraction, I believe that, to the extent there ever was a compelling interest, that interest has significantly degraded over time to be less than compelling now.
Any one of these factors—when considered individually—is not dispositive. But the factors—when considered together—have a cumulative effect indicating that the public lacks a compelling interest in the records.
Racop started a blog, Bad Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division, satirizing the ABC months ago because, he said, he wasn’t happy with ABC response to his objection to a permit request. That blog drew information from others about a wide variety of activities in the agency that enforces alcohol sales laws. He also received information about Hamlet, a familiar figure for Republican causes on social media in the runup to the 2014 election that put Rutledge and Hutchinson in office. The Racop blog is busy with internal disputes and personnel issues at ABC. But in July,, Racop posted documents he’d received from State Police about Hamlet. They included the following:
Hamlet has refused to respond to Racop’s request for information and my own.
I sent queries Monday to Racop and also to Attorney General Rutledge and Gov. Hutchinson’s office asking them to defend the proposition that there’s no compelling public interest in the past firing of a law officer who now heads a state law enforcement agency. I’ve also asked whether Hutchinson or Rutledge or their staffs discussed this issue with Hamlet before yesterday’s decision.
Racop contends that the issue extends beyond the 2000 firing because Hamlet failed to disclose that information on subsequent law enforcement job applications when it might have been relevant. Racop questions, for example, whether his background and credibility would have been relevant to criminal defendants prosecuted by the Faulkner County prosecuting attorney’s office — also held by a Republican, Cody Hiland — while Hamlet worked there.
Noted: Racop has a record himself, such as when a judge ordered him to cease contact with his daughter’s elementary school principal for harassing behavior. He’s been in court frequently in domestic disputes.
But his blog details, through public records, some valid questions about ABC, including the dismissal of an employee over a complaint Racop had lodged. It’s also even simpler in this case: Boyce Hamlet, a Republican once fired for lying as a state trooper, has had the record of that firing kept secret by a Republican attorney general. The appearance is not encouraging.
Side note: Hamlet blocked me from following his Twitter account after impertinent questions, much like another Republican from Conway, Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood. Of course there are ways around that, as I’ve demonstrated before. Check him out. You’ll see he follows people like Haley Barbour and Judd Deere, the attorney general’s press spokesman, and a variety of Republican legislators.
In preparing a complaint about Hamlet for the state
Ethics Commission Department of Finance Administration, in which ABC operates, Racop compiled a dossier on Hamlet’s work history and what he believes to be omissions and shortcomings in those records. Hamlet is paid $73,124 as ABC enforcement director.
UPDATE: Racop says he’ll go to court to obtain the records Rutledge wouldn’t release.
UPDATE II: Rutledge’s office said she’d have no response to my questions.