Max Brantley calls from the field to report that Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza just ruled in favor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in its petition to force Gov. Mike Huckabee to release an investigative report about alleged professional misconduct by former state parole board member Larry Zeno, who recently resigned.
Piazza will allow the documents to remain under seal while Huckabee and the parole board decide whether to appeal the ruling.
UPDATE: Legal point. The judge, in ruling from the bench, skipped past any discussion about the "working papers" exception claimed by the governor and said the case boiled down to the exception it claimed on behalf of Zeno -- that it was a personal matter. There, Piazza said, the test was whether public accountability of an important public official outweighed his privacy claim. In this case, he said, it did.
Piazza commented, however, that the material he reviewed amounted to "much ado about nothing." At the same time, he said, it "probably warranted the governor taking action." He aso commented that disclosure in cases such as this, sometimes "once you get in you wish you hadn't looked."
We learned from testimony that Parole Board member Carolyn Robinson (Tommy's wife) alerted Chairman Leroy Brownlee to allegations against Zeno. Brownlee told te governor's criminal justice liaison, Michael Crump. Crump agreed an investigation was warranted. It was conducted by Dick Johnson, internal affairs administrator for the Department of Community Correction. He interviewed six or seven witnesses and gathered some other evidence, including photographs, and turned it and a summary over to Brownlee. Johnson shredded all drafts of his report, one of which went to the governor's office and one to Brownlee, and kept no copies of any of his interviews. He said that was his routine procedure. Shortly after he received it, Brownlee put his report in the governor's office, too.
Testimony didn't indicate what the investigation concerned, though it was mentioned that Zeno was investigated previously by State Police (as we've reported) for talking to an inmate whose clemency case he'd heard about obtaining a diamond ring from the inmate's father. The internal affairs investigator mentioned that, after Zeno resigned, Zeno's office computer was reviewed for "inappropriate material" or things that could be "classified as obscene" and scrubbed of old files.
Zeno met with Crump, Huckabee staff chief Brenda Turner and legal counsel Milton Fine on the investigation May 15. Zeno denied any wrongdoing, Crump said. Crump said Zeno was told the governor didn't want to remove him and said he wasn't encouraged to resign. Crump said he was surprised when he learned Zeno turned in his resignation the next morning.
Brownlee and Crump insisted there had been no plan to put all existing copies of the report in the governor's office as a means to keep them private. Brownlee said he never retained such reports because he had no ability to act on them and this report made references to others in the office. "There was nothing I could do with it but pass it on," Brownlee said.
It also developed that when a Democrat-Gazette reporter first asked Brownlee about the Zeno investigation, Brownlee said it was still ongoing. But it had actually been over for several days by then and the report was in the hands of the governor's office.
PS --- On another front, Huckabee went before some 250 business newspaper people in convention in LR and did his presidential spiel. One visitor rained on his parade a tad by asking him about his punishment of the Arkansas Times, which has been cut off from routine publicly financed press services given other Little Rock media. He danced around the question we were told by a Chicago newspaper editor, who said he'd been reasonably impressed with the Huckster up until that point. Arkansas Business has a report.