Judge: City late in providing FOIA documents to attorney for Isadore family

Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis ruled Thursday that the city of Pine Bluff was late in providing documents to a Little Rock attorney who had filed a Freedom of Information request, but there was confusion about the availability of those documents between the attorney and City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott.

The judge ordered the city to make all the documents available for inspection and copying by Friday, but also said in the order that attorney Lawrence Anthony Walker, who filed the FOIA request, was responsible for bringing copying equipment to Hadden-Scott’s office “to avoid further delay in providing copies.”

A request for fees to pay attorney Crystal Okoro, who represented Walker, was rejected by Dennis, who said in the order that Walker “failed to introduce into evidence facts sufficient for this Court to determine an amount or any prejudice resulting from the delay.”

Walker, one of the attorneys representing the family of the late Monroe Isadore, filed the request for information on March 13, then filed a complaint against Police Chief Jeff Hubanks on March 21. Walker later amended the complaint to add Mayor Debe Hollingsworth after Hadden-Scott sought to have the complaint dismissed.

Hadden-Scott contended that Hollingsworth, as chief executive of the city, should have been served with the lawsuit, and she was served March 31.

During a bench trial Monday, Hubanks testified that he was not in the office when the request was filed March 13 and only learned of it March 17 when he returned to work. He said he started to gather the requested information at that time.

Both Hubanks and Hadden-Scott testified that the information Walker requested was available March 20, with Hubanks saying he thought the problem was that Walker and Hadden-Scott could not get together on a time for Walker to examine the requested material.

Walker earlier testified that Hadden-Scott told him she would be in her office all day March 20 but when he called, she was not in, and when he went to the office, she was not there.

Hadden-Scott contended that Walker did not make an appointment with her but just showed up and did not ask Hadden-Scott’s secretary about the requested material.

Arkansas law requires that a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act be responded to within three working days.

“That wasn’t done,” Okoro said during the trial.

Although Walker contended in his lawsuit and through his attorney during the trial that Hubanks should be cited for violating the act, Hubanks’ name was not mentioned in Dennis’ court order Thursday.

In the FOIA request, Walker asked for any documents that mention Pine Bluff Police officers shooting people in the past five years, any documents that mention officers discharging their weapons in the past five years, any incidents of “friendly fire” involving officers in the past five years, as well as any documents, memorandums, emails or other correspondence that mentioned Isadore, 107, who was killed when he exchanged gunshots with police following a standoff with police in September 2013.