Judge threatens to dismiss lawsuit from Arkansas attorney general in prisons dispute

Dec 20, 2023, 10:39 AM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas judge on Tuesday threatened to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the state’s attorney general against the Corrections Board that he would normally represent, the latest in a widening legal fight between the panel and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders over prisons.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox on Tuesday criticized Attorney General Tim Griffin for filing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Board of Corrections without arranging for a special counsel to represent the panel in the case. The judge said he’ll dismiss the lawsuit in 30 days if Griffin doesn’t reach an agreement with the board on a special counsel.

Griffin has accused the panel of violating the law when it hired an outside attorney in its dispute with Sanders over who runs the state prison system.

“The case, at this juncture, from a procedural standpoint, is that the attorney general has sued his own clients, in violation of his duties and responsibilities mandated to him by the Arkansas General Assembly,” Fox wrote.

Griffin said he was certain he and his office complied with all ethical obligations and planned to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“The court’s order states that the Board of Corrections is clearly ‘entitled to legal counsel,’” Griffin said in a statement. “There is no dispute about that here. The dispute is whether the board has followed the legal requirements to obtain outside counsel.”

Abtin Mehdizadegan, the board’s attorney, said the panel believed Fox’s ruling “recognizes the extreme conflicts of interest presented by the attorney general’s retaliatory lawsuit against the board.”

“I expect that the issue of the attorney general’s ethics will continue to be the subject of close scrutiny,” he said in a statement.

The board last week suspended state Corrections Secretary Joe Profiri and sued the state over a new law that took away the panel’s authority over Profiri and two other top officials. A judge on Friday issued a temporary order blocking the law and set a hearing for next week in the case. Griffin has asked the court to reconsider its order.

The dispute stems from the Sanders administration moving forward with opening temporary prison beds that the board has not approved. Members of the board have said opening the temporary beds would jeopardize the safety of inmates and staff.

The board said the blocked law, which would have taken its hiring and firing power over the corrections secretary and given it to the governor, violates Arkansas’ constitution. The blocked law also would have given the corrections secretary, not the board, hiring and firing authority over the correction and community correction division directors.

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Judge threatens to dismiss lawsuit from Arkansas attorney general in prisons dispute