Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, law partner Chip Sexton and UALR law professor Robert Steinbuch struggled to find a circuit judge to hear the case of the Freedom of Information Act against the Fayetteville School District filed June 25.
The action on behalf of Ila Campbell, who had sent an unresolved FOIA request in early May and again on June 10, largely involved the district’s program and plans.
Under Arkansas law, FOIA cases must be heard within seven days of being filed.
Four judges have all recused themselves from hearing the case without explanation or even answering (at the end of last week) a journalist’s questions. It seems more than weird to me.
Finally, last week, Fourth Circuit judge Mark Lindsay agreed to hear the case. I was starting to wonder if there was a judge from Arkansas who could professionally conduct a hearing in this lawsuit in the public interest, no matter who is involved.
You might remember McCutchen is the lawyer I call the Bulldog, and that’s exactly what he becomes when he stands up for the public’s right to know.
In this case, Campbell and the law firm asked the district for relatively basic information regarding a specific program and its decision-making.
For example, they want to know all they can learn about the district’s “equity plan” and all the documentation for the potential curriculum involving the highly controversial “critical race theory”. They also look for any correspondence related to a group known as Converge Social Justice Consulting Firm as well as similar documents related to LGBTQ policies and gender support plans.
The lawyers even asked for all information regarding the district’s use of the word Christmas.
Essentially, they seek all communication in any form between district staff, employees, school board members, city council members, and the mayor’s office regarding the FOIA request.
The district provided 8,000 documents from its leadership team. But that was after Campbell’s two FOIA requests went unanswered and McCutchen’s group finally filed a complaint on Campbell’s behalf.
The district basically responds that it did not violate FOIA and that McCutchen’s request is too broad and onerous and should only apply to the district leadership team.
Circuit judges Beth Storey, Doug Martin, John Threet and Stacy Zimmerman all chose to avoid (without explanation) what seems like a hot potato to me.
McCutchen maintains that the district “absolutely violated the FOIA” with its initial failure to respond to Campbell’s claim on time and has been ready to appear in court since May.
He has also never heard of a FOIA case where four judges recused themselves without comment. I just have to say, dear readers, neither do I.
Anyone benefit from this simple and fearless republic of laws that we have created?
I did a double take the other day after reading that GOP governor candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders had already raised over $ 9 million from over 67,000 backers, breaking the record for largest amount of money ever raised by a candidate for governor of Arkansas.
It sounds great to me, whatever your political leanings.
Of this amount, $ 4.2 million was raised in the second quarter, including more than $ 1.5 million from Arkansans. His obviously popular campaign is said to have raised more than $ 3 million from around 9,000 Arkansans.
And the election is still two football seasons away.
Shake the ants
Maybe you also saw the meme on social media last week that said that red fire ants and black ants usually live side by side in harmony.
This is their basic behavior until I put the two species in a jar together and shake them vigorously. At this point, they get up and start attacking each other, as if to blame the other for the disturbance.
But the real culprits were not the ants; rather, it was I who shook them in a state of anger.
The meme was meant to serve as an analogy to what is done in human society today. The real culprits of the generation of senseless hatred and divisions among the Americas are those who intentionally and methodically shake up our entire population, while their minions continually advertise and demonize any group that speaks out against the tactics.
A little food for thought today.
Take the vaccine
I want valued readers to know that Jeanetta and I had our two covid-19 shots in January and February without complications.
With both of us in our 70s and in a higher risk category, we were anxious and grateful for the vaccine, and we didn’t have a heartache. That said, I encourage each Arkansan to think deeply about their decision, and then hopefully choose to join us in finally putting an end to this scourge.
Our hospitals are full again. The fight is far from over.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas reporter, was editor of three Arkansas dailies, and led the Masters of Journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]