by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Supreme Court today upheld a lower court ruling ordering the release of e-mail files of Ron Quillin, the former county comptroller who has pleaded guilty to embezzling public funds. The Democrat-Gazette brought the suit. We've had a request pending for this information and are seeking to see how quickly Pulaski County intends to comply with the order.
UPDATE: Pulaski County Attorney Karla Burnett says that though she doesn't necessarily agree with the Arkansas Supreme Court's decision this morning to release the bulk of the Ron Quillin e-mails, the County will seek no rehearing in the matter.
Asked when the e-mails will be released to the public and the press, Burnett said that it will be 18 days before the Supreme Court mandate issues, but the county will not necessarily hold the e-mails that long. Burnett said that she wants to speak with the attorney for Jane Doe, the Quillin paramour and county computer services vendor who filed as an intervenor in the County's lawsuit, before she makes a decision on when to release the e-mails. Quillin spent some of the money he stole on his girlfriend.
UPDATE II: Here's the opinion. There's a fine dissent by Justice Paul Danielson, who, in upholding release of the material, details how a four-member court majority has mishandled this case from the start and done severe damage to the FOI law in the process. It has invented standards that the law doesn't require and that no court has ever applied and extended what the law envisions to be a speedy process. Danielson notes the sexual content of some e-mails is irrelevant. What's only relevant is whether these were public records as defined by the law -- kept by a public agency and constituting a record of performance or lack of performance of a public job. The criteria clearly were met here. Justice Imber joined Danielson. And Justice Tom Glaze also wrote a dissent, lamenting the fact that the D-G (and others, including the Times) asked for these records three and a half months ago and still has not received them. Glaze writes:
In my view, this simple case became complex when the majority court attempted to place a square peg in a round hole. In essence, what the majority has done is to permit a public employee to place pornographic material on a public computer, where it is presumed to be a public record, but by allowing the employee to subvert the purpose and intent of the Act. Such an employee’s inappropriate conduct should not be protected under any circumstances. If the majority had ruled, as it should have, that salacious photographs and material placed on the county’s computer by a county employee during working hours constitute public records, the taxpayers could readily learn how that employee performs his work and conducts the public’s business. It also is reasonable to believe that, when such inappropriate conduct is subject to public exposure, that abuse will end. ,,,
The majority’s overly prolonged treatment of this case has completely subverted the true intent of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act; indeed, instead of meeting the goals and objectives of the FOIA, this court’s actions have resulted in an absurd application of the Act’s purpose.
Oh, the irony of it all!