Judge rejects AG Griffin’s FOIA lawsuit against the Board of Corrections

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 816 views 

Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Tim Fox not only issued a terse rejection of Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin’s lawsuit against the Arkansas Board of Corrections (BOC), the judge suggested Griffin may have committed “serious ethical violations.”

Griffin’s office on Dec. 15 filed a lawsuit against the BOC alleging it violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act when it went into executive session to suspend Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri and when it hired outside legal counsel. The board hired Abtin Mehdizadegan, an attorney in the Little Rock office of Hall Booth Smith, in the case before James. Griffin filed the lawsuit in the Pulaski County Circuit Court and it is part of an ongoing conflict that began when the BOC rejected demands by Gov. Sarah Sanders to add 500 beds to the prison system.

The feud between the BOC and Gov. Sarah Sanders and Griffin went public Nov. 17 when Sanders and Griffin held a press conference during which the governor blasted the BOC for rejecting most of a request to provide more than 600 additional beds in the prison system. The BOC is the governing body of the state’s prison system. BOC members at the time made it clear that the prison system lacks the staff to responsibly add more beds.

Sanders and Griffin say that Acts 185 and 659 passed in the 2023 Legislative Session give the governor direct authority over leadership at the Department of Corrections. The BOC has filed lawsuits in Pulaski County Circuit Court challenging the constitutionality of sections of Acts 185 and 659. The lawsuits list Sanders, Griffin, Profiri and the Arkansas Department of Corrections as defendants.

In his late Tuesday (Dec. 19) ruling on Griffin’s FOIA lawsuit, Fox said Griffin is “in clear violation of his mandated constitutional and statutory duty to either represent the state defendants or initiate the special counsel procedure” and outlined by state law.

“Not only has the Attorney General acted in contravention of his statutory duties to represent the state defendants, by using his discretion to apparently not invoke the special counsel procedure, he is apparently attempting to deliberately deprive his state clients of any legal representation of any nature or kind,” Fox noted.

Fox gave Griffin 30 days to either reach an agreement with Mehdizadegan to continue representing the BOC, or to begin the process to provide the BOC with special counsel.

Fox also suggested Griffin may have violated Arkansas’ rules of conduct in his actions against the BOC.

“With respect to the Attorney General’s numerous potentially serious ethical violations of the Arkansas Rules of Professional Conduct, the court leaves the issue to the state defendants herein to address, if they so choose, within the administrative process of the Arkansas Committee on Professional Conduct,” Fox wrote in the six-page ruling. (Link here for a PDF of the ruling.)

In statement to Talk Business & Politics, Griffin said pushed back against the ruling and that he violated any rules of conduct.

“I am certain that my staff and I have complied completely with all ethical obligations. I am preparing to seek review of the court’s order by the Arkansas Supreme Court,” Griffin said in the statement. “The court’s order states that the Board of Corrections is clearly ‘entitled to legal counsel.’ There is no dispute about that here. The dispute is whether the board has followed the legal requirements to obtain outside counsel. Arkansas law clearly articulates a process for employing outside counsel for a state government board. The board has ignored that process, and our lawsuit seeks to remedy that.”