Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
Brian Chilson
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge

The Arkansas Court of Appeals today declared as moot the Department of Human Services’ appeal of a 2018 circuit court ruling that required release of the personnel records of Attorney General Leslie Rutledge that indicated she was terminated as a DHS lawyer for gross misconduct.

Since the records were released, there’s no issue to be decided, the Court ruled. Cindy Gillespie, head of DHS, had appealed Circuit Judge Tim Fox’s order that eight pages of her record, withheld from a 2014 response to a Freedom of Information Act request, be released. Rutledge herself released the files after his order and claimed, as a DHS lawyer had, that the records were in error in saying she’d been fired. She also said newly released material on times she’d been counseled for shortcomings didn’t constitute “gross misconduct.” The Court of Appeals noted that DHS sat on these records and made no effort to correct the supposed inaccurate record after withholding the material when a 2014 FOI request was filed.

The records were sought by Reed Brewer, a Democratic Party employee, to use in the campaign against her successful run for re-election.

The court of appeals said there are exceptions to dismissing a case for being moot — including whether the circumstance might be repeated or when they were matters of “substantial public interest.” Neither exception applied here, the court said. The state didn’t ask for a stay of the ruling at the time, the court noted. As for public interest:

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Here, while we acknowledge that there may be a substantial public interest in the release of potentially adverse employee evaluations of a constitutional officer, addressing the issues raised here at this time would not prevent further litigation.  The issues presented here are fact specific to Ms. Rutledge and her tenure with the Department; the documents in question have already been released; and the issues raised have already been addressed by us in Davissupra.  Thus, our exercise of the public-interest exception to mootness would not be prudent based on the facts and circumstances presented here.

Rutledge’s tenure at DHS was a source of controversy in races in both 2014 and 2018. A DHS supervisor had written “do not rehire” on her personnel forms. Various accounts indicated she had a spotty record on handling matters related to children’s court cases, though she said they were minor. She put her problems down to politics.