RUTLEDGE EXPLAINS: At media event to release personnel records. BRIAN CHILSON


Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
on Wednesday afternoon invited media to her office (no video cameras allowed) to release personnel records that a judge said the public was entitled to see records of her time as a lawyer in the Children and Family Services Division of the Department of Human Services. It includes some records pertaining to her handling of juvenile cases that raised question marks in 2014.

Benji Hardy will be back with a full report. The session lasted almost two hours.

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Photographer Brian Chilson was on hand. He said Rutledge repeated accounts from both 2014 and after this FOI suit was filed that she had resigned to work in Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign and did not know until after the fact that supervisors had put a “do not rehire” notation on her records on account of “gross misconduct.” She said she’d been asked to stay on a couple of weeks when she gave notice, but refused. Perhaps, she allowed, that led to unhappiness with her. Said Rutledge:

“If I could turn back time, like Cher says, then I certainly would have worked those two weeks.” 

Eight pages withheld from FOI compliance in 2014 were released by Rutledge and she offered an explanation for all of them.

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She claimed a disciplinary form in her file was placed there after she left. She also produced a form that she’d signed — a counseling action. It also included a performance evaluation that essentially gave her a C grade.

The Arkansas Times reported in 2014 that there’d been dissatisfaction with Rutledge’s handling of at least three cases and a supervisor had wanted to meet with her, but Rutledge apparently resigned before that meeting occurred.  Here’s more on cases of particular interest, including a repeat occurrence of a failure of DHS attorneys to communicate with social workers subpoenaed for court testimony. One was never called to testify and when she inquired, learned Rutledge had already left for the day. It also notes that Rutledge handled two adoptions in a way that could have prevented adoptive families from receiving state subsidies.

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The “do not rehire” note on gross misconduct was added to Rutledge’s file 10 days after she quit. DHS officials wouldn’t elaborate, nor would Rutledge, but post-departure notations are not unheard of in state government to protect against future re-employment. She has said this year that she believed the reason was political and done by people hoping to harm a future run for office. But this occurred in 2007, seven years before she appeared as a candidate for attorney general. In the interim, she held a variety of jobs, including with the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C., where she managed to concurrently register to vote in both Washington and Arkansas.

Mike Lee, Rutledge’s Democratic opponent, got front-page play in the state’s largest newspaper this morning with a call for Rutledge to be transparent about her past work as a public employee. Kerry Hicks is also running for the office as a Libertarian.

Update from Benji:

Here are the eight pages from Rutledge’s personnel file that were ordered released by Judge Fox. Some names of cases have been redacted, as required by state law. (She also provided reporters with a full copy of the previously released portions of the file.) Here’s a sheaf of DHS emails Rutledge distributed on Wednesday to bolster her argument that she resigned rather than being terminated.

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Rutledge told reporters Wednesday that she was asking DHS to appeal Fox’s order, even though she was now making the documents public herself.  “I’m going to encourage them to appeal this lawsuit because of the importance of the FOIA and the importance of public employees’ personnel records … to protect these individuals who are going to work as public school teachers, going to work as firemen, going to work as law enforcement officers, going to work at [UAMS],” she said. Fox’s ruling was a bad ruling, she said. “A vindictive supervisor [or] coworker, could put quite honestly anything in someone’s personnel file,” she said. (Rutledge is not a party to the suit, which is between DHS and the Democratic Party.)

Rutledge said she was “very blessed” to have worked as an attorney at DHS handling foster care and adoption cases. “Public service is just kind of baked into the cake of who I am,” she said, noting that her mother worked 34 years as a special education teacher and her father served as a judge and a prosecutor. Later, Rutledge added that it was “an honor” and “an incredible opportunity to represent these children, to fight on behalf of the best interest of these children who are in foster care … who have been in unimaginable circumstances.”

However, when given the opportunity to work on the Huckabee campaign in late 2007, she decided to quit her DHS position immediately.

On Sunday, December 2, Rutledge said, she spent most of the day getting her cases ready to hand off to other attorneys and cleaning out her office. The next day, Monday, December 3, she went to court, handled her cases, and informed the presiding juvenile judge she was resigning at DHS. Then, she called her immediate supervisor, Kay Forrest — who was out of town at the time —  and sat down with two other supervisors, Lisa McGee and Misty Bowen-Eubanks, to tell them she was flying to the East Coast the next day to begin gathering signatures to ensure Huckabee would be on the ballot in Delaware.

“I distinctly remember them asking me, ‘Well, can’t you do — come on, Leslie, can’t you do two more weeks?’ And I was like, ‘Well, no, I can’t do two more weeks. It’s a presidential campaign — it may be over with in two weeks,'” Rutledge said.

After she left, she said, she heard nothing else regarding the matter until the 2014 election, when it emerged that McGee had directed a “do not hire” notation to be placed in Rutledge’s employee file on December 10, 2007.  Rutledge said she was surprised by the discovery. “Nobody consulted me about this … They didn’t say Leslie, we’re going to put this in your file,” she said.

At the time of her departure, Rutledge said, she had a double caseload due to another DCFS attorney being reassigned to a different position. She said she had “dozens and dozens” of cases but couldn’t recall how many specifically. The attorney general said she was confident none of her clients suffered adverse effects from their DHS attorney’s departure midstream through the case.

She noted that high staff turnover is a fact of life at DHS. “Whether it’s the caseload or the pay for attorneys … sadly, there’s not enough attorneys who want to go work at DHS and handle these cases for what they pay … The strict adherence to the administrative part of these cases, the timelines, the forms, because you do have so many different moving parts.”

However, Rutledge said, her fellow DHS attorneys were prepared to pick up the cases she was leaving behind  “All of the material was prepared … an attorney could pick up a file [and] walk into the courtroom. … These lawyers are all experienced. I didn’t work with any attorneys at DHS who were straight out of law school,” she said. She noted that the cases were turned over to Bowen-Eubanks, a supervising attorney.

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The emails provided by Rutledge on Wednesday seem to indicate her immediate supervisor, Forrest, was unhappy with her abrupt departure:


The emails also appear to show Rutledge’s supervisors did indeed construed her departure as a resignation rather than a firing; they repeatedly refer to her decision to quit.

Asked whether she felt it was the right decision to leave without giving two weeks notice, Rutledge reiterated that she had prepped her cases for other attorneys beforehand. “It was not uncommon for attorneys to handle one another’s cases,” she said. Still, she said, she would have made a different decision simply to avoid the later hassle.

“Looking back, if it had prevented all this nonsense that I’ve had to fool with for four-and-a-half years, over learning about what’s been placed in my file, and them altering my records … if I could turn back time, as Cher says, then I certainly would have worked those two weeks. Because then they may not have changed my files,” she said.

Asked why she thought McGee added the “do not rehire” designation, Rutledge said she didn’t know. “Whether they got mad because I didn’t give two weeks notice or for political reasons, I don’t know the answer to that. Only those individuals can answer why they changed the file,” she said.

Rutledge said there was “a clear ideological difference” between her and her supervisors, though she didn’t feel at the time it impacted her ability to work with them. In her workspace, she said, she had pictures of herself and various Republican officials. “Literally, some of these folks, Lisa and others, would come by and give me a hard time, about … ‘Look at our little Republican,'” she said.

Rutledge said she felt she “worked very hard, very diligently at my job” while at DHS. She acknowledged she’d received a “counseling statement” from a supervisor about being late to court once earlier that year; she said that was because she was double-booked in a different court across town. “In my year-plus time there, even in counseling statement, being 15 minutes late is as bad as it got. There was no gross misconduct. There was no mishandling of cases,” Rutledge said.

She said an unsigned, undated disciplinary action form referencing a separate incident (involving a witness missing court due to a communications failure) was not present in her file when she left the agency. Though she recalled the incident, she said, she never received any written warning of discipline. “I have no recollection of someone handing this to me,” she said.

“Not that I’m making any excuses, but I mean, these are, literally, all of these are nitpicky, administrative, organizational issues that did not have any bearing on the cases themselves,” she said.

Later, when asked about the evaluation in which she received a score of three out of five in every category, Rutledge suggested her supervisor may have been rushing through the task. “Three means satisfactory,” she noted. “I can’t get into the head of my supervisor, but if you put a one or a five down, you have to explain it. If you put a three down, you don’t have to explain it. I’d been there six months and so she’s just down the row, three. You’ve probably all filled out a survey when you’ve traveled on an airplane or done something where you just put, threes, get me out of this …

“I think it’s important to note that three is satisfactory. It’s not unsatisfactory; it’s fine. That just means, ‘yeah, she’s a fine lawyer, she hasn’t done anything wrong.’ Because I can assure you that if I had done something wrong, they would have noted it.”