FOI in court today; D-G publisher to be subpoenaed | Arkansas Blog

FOI in court today; D-G publisher to be subpoenaed


FOR THE DEFENSE: Marion Humphrey challenges newspaper.
  • FOR THE DEFENSE: Marion Humphrey challenges newspaper.
I went to church Sunday at Allison Memorial Presbyterian, where former Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey is pastor, and picked up a little information before the service about action today in circuit court, where Humphrey is defense lawyer for Rodney Forte, director of the Metropolitan Housing Alliance.

Forte is appealing to circuit court a district court conviction that he violated the state Freedom of Information Act in responding to a records request from a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Judge Alice Lightle fined him $100 and $140 in costs on the misdemeanor charge, rarely prosecuted criminally in Arkansas.

The newspaper requested personnel and work order records from the agency, which oversees federally subsidized housing projects and programs. It filed a complaint after the agency said it would cost $16,000 to fulfill the complaint. Prosecutor Larry Jegley characterized that as "over the top" and Judge Lightle agreed that, while the request was burdensome, the law required full compliance.

A hearing on motions is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. today in Judge Herb Wright's court. Humphrey has announced plans to subpoena (he hasn't actually issued subpoenas yet as I wrote originally) a list of character witnesses including former U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey of Pine Bluff; other businessmen, including Bill Jones of Sissy's Log Cabin, and former UAPB Chancellor Lawrence Davis. He also plans to call Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Humphrey told me that a personal attorney for Hussman was attempting to have the publisher's subpoena quashed. Humphrey wants to ask Hussman about the ability of the state's largest media empire to pay the copying charges. The question of what's a reasonable request for a vast amount of documents will be important to his defense. He also wants to question prosecutors who talked with an employee of the city attorney's office about the agency's attempt to get clarification about records sought before the case was prosecuted. Humphrey also says he will introduce the 35,000 documents he says were covered by the newspaper's request.

No decisions were made at today's hearings on future subpoenas, but the judge said he might have to hold another hearing relative to Humphrey's desire to talk to prosecutors. Humphrey is also producing support for his contention that prosecutions are unheard of in Arkansas and, in one case in Fayetteville, was unsuccessful when a document request made of the University of Arkansas was too broad.

Speaking of church: Humphrey preached Sunday on being a servant, his lesson drawn from the Gospel according to Mark. He who wants to be first shall be last and servant of all. Humphrey used the sermon to take off briefly into current affairs — the state takeover of the Little Rock School District. He's  a lawyer for those seeking a return of a democratically elected school. The metaphorical tie was the limitless desire for money and power by some. It was a reference to the heirs of the Walton fortune that has played so heavily in school district affairs. For some, the suggestion seemed to be, the first shall always be first.

NOTE: This item has been edited and includes some additions from the original version posted this morning.

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