A lawsuit has been filed against Stu Soffer, a member of the Jefferson County Election Commission, for his failure to turn over e-mails in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
The suit was filed by Little Rock lawyer Lawrence Walker on behalf of Crystal Okoro of North Little Rock. It is an outgrowth of an ongoing controversy surrounding the election commission. Soffer pulled a gun outside a recent Election Commission meeting because he said a former commissioner, Ted Davis, had approached in a “threatening” way. Soffer, a Republican, has quarreled with Democrats, particularly some black Democrats who won recent primary election contests that unseated local incumbents. Soffer has complained about election activities in that camp.
The lawsuit says Soffer has resisted providing e-mails, citing a number of excuses, including that he’s not a public official and as a matter of practice doesn’t retain records. E-mail from private accounts about public business is accessible under the FOI. Another of Soffer’s excuses for noncompliance apparently is that he has communicated with an attorney about an ongoing election “investigation.” (The law provides this exception: “Undisclosed investigations by law enforcement agencies of suspected criminal activity.” Is the Election Commission a law enforcement agency?) The suit contends some private e-mail may be protected, but a fact-finder should judge whether others are open to inspection as the public’s business.
If Soffer has communicated by e-mail — a public or private account — about Election Commission matters those records should be retrievable and they should be open to public inspection. His excuses to the contrary are mostly smoke-blowing.