A taxpayers’ lawsuit was filed today alleging Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had illegally spent public money to help Donald Trump and her own political career.
The plaintiffs are Pratt Cates Remmel Jr., Gale Stewart, Glen Hooks, Robert B. Leflar, Elaine Dumas, Michael B. Dougan, Harvey Joe Sanner and Jackie Simpson. (Disclosure: Dumas is the wife of Arkansas Times columnist Ernest Dumas.)
Richard H. Mays is the lead lawyer. He’s been active in several public interest lawsuits recently, including current challenges of state spending on freeway projects in Little Rock.
Mays declined comment on the suit, referring me to the complaint.
I have asked the attorney general for comment. UPDATE:
“The Attorney General vehemently denies the partisan allegations of this politically-motivated complaint. The Attorney General has broad discretion to act in the interest of the people of Arkansas. This is a frivolous lawsuit, and we will ask that it be dismissed.”
The attorney general’s duties are prescribed by law, the suit said. In addition to representing agencies and officials of the state and handling appeals of criminal cases, the attorney general also
… shall maintain and defend the interests of the state in matters before the United States Supreme Court and all other federal courts and shall be the legal representative of all state officers, boards, and commissions in all litigation where the interests of the state are involved.
The “interests of the state” are not defined in the Constitution or statutes of the State of Arkansas, but have been defined by the courts of Arkansas on a case-by-case basis. The “interests of the state” are generally considered to include any legitimate matter of general public concern that is or can be addressed by the State government in law or policy. “Legitimate” means that which is lawful, legal, recognized by law, or in accordance with law.
The statutes quoted above, taken together, clearly indicate that the “interests of the State” in litigation involve cases where the State of Arkansas, is a direct party in the litigation or where the laws, regulations or policies of the State are involved.
But, says the suit,
During her tenure as Arkansas Attorney General, Defendant Rutledge has engaged and continues to engage in activities as such Attorney General on behalf of the State of Arkansas that have consisted of political and highly-partisan subjects and have been likewise conducted by her in such manner.
The Defendant Rutledge has engaged in activities that are not in the interests of the State of Arkansas, and are in excess of her statutory authority as Attorney General. They include, without limitation, the following:
(a) In co-filing on or about November 9, 2020, an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the State of Arkansas in conjunction with 10 Republican affiliated Attorneys General of other states in a lawsuit then pending in the United States Supreme Court entitled Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar, Nos. 20-524 and 20-574, urging the Supreme Court to reverse a decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that was alleged to allow mail-in ballots to be received three days after Election Day. This Brief was apparently approved and entered into by Defendant Rutledge notwithstanding the absence of credible facts or legal precedents to support the claims of the Attorneys General and without analysis of the 6 facts and law, if any, to support the Brief. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously denied certiorari (i.e., refusing to hear the case).
(b)In co-filing on or about December 9, 2020, with the Republican-affiliated Attorneys General of 18 other States, a Petition to the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of the State of Arkansas in the case of Texas v. Pennsylvania et al., No. 22O155 (Original) to delay the December 14, 2020 Electoral College vote and block Defendant/Respondent States of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin from casting their votes in the Electoral College for the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, thus overturning President-Elect Biden’s national election victory in the November 5, 2020 general election. This Petition was filed notwithstanding the absence of credible facts or legal precedence to support the claims of the Attorneys General, and without consultation with or approval of the Governor of the State of Arkansas, the chief executive officer of the state. The U.S. Supreme Court again unanimously refused to hear the case.
(c) In attempting to profit from her joining in the lawsuit described in Subparagraphs (a) and (b) above, by issuing the following post on the “Leslie Rutledge For Arkansas” Facebook website (stated to be Defendant’s official website for her campaign for Governor) declaring that “Arkansas is in the Fight!”, and appealing to members of the public to donate money to her campaign for governor in 2022:
Leslie Rutledge for Arkansas Arkansas is in the fight! Now, will you help me win? Donate here http://ow.ly/wohd30rnWVU POLITICS.RAISETHEMONEY.COM politics.raisethemoney.com
Rutledge’s activities described above were, thus, not in the interest of the State of Arkansas, but in her own political and economic interest.
The suit goes on to note Rutledge, who is running for governor in 2022, spent $1.7 million of state money in fiscal 2020 for an advertising campaign that featured her. She has also joined in numerous lawsuits in other states “advocating the elimination of or reduction in environmental, health and safety, and financial protections for the citizens of Arkansas.”
The suit also cites her intervention in a New York state lawsuit alleging financial corruption in the management of the nonprofit NRA. She contended her defense of NRA corruption amounted to protecting 2nd Amendment rights of Arkansans.
The suit details other partisan activities. She took time away from her duties as attorney general of Arkansas to serve as national co-chair of Lawyers for Trump! and engaged in partisan political activities of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association she once chaired. The fund has made headlines recently by supporting and encouraging attendance at the Jan. 6 Trump rally in Washington to protest the Electoral College vote count in Congress. Participants marched from the rally and many rioted in the Capitol. Rutledge has said she was unaware of the fund’s role in the event, which the suit termed “seditious activity.”
In these activities, the suit says, Rutledge exceeded her statutory authority as attorney general. If a court agrees, any expenditures of public funds (such as for travel, research by staff, court costs) are “illegal exactions” under the Arkansas Constitution.
The suit seeks a finding that the actions were illegal and that she be barred from similar actions in the future. It asks that she be ordered to reimburse the state and for attorney fees.
The suit, which was assigned to Judge Alice Gray, names Rutledge personally and as attorney general. The Arkansas Supreme Court has held repeatedly recently that the state cannot be sued, but one exception is for illegal actions, as alleged here.
I’ve asked the attorney general for a comment.
I would also ask her if it is still in the interest of Arkansas for her to join in defending the NRA now that it has filed for bankruptcy.