LITTLE ROCK — In a hearing that lasted about two minutes, a judge abruptly dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the secretary of state of violating the state Freedom of Information Act.
The suit by liberal blogger and attorney Matt Campbell, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court in July, alleged that Secretary of State Mark Martin, a Republican, violated the FOI law by refusing to release documents in the format that Campbell requested.
Campbell asked in June for emails and attachments exchanged between attorneys on Martin’s staff and outside attorneys hired to represent Martin in two discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits. Campbell alleged in his suit that Martin produced some of the documents in paper form only and that Campbell was entitled to receive all of the documents in electronic form.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Circuit Judge Tim Fox began by asking for everyone who would be testifying to be sworn in. Campbell, who was acting as his own attorney, told the judge he did not plan to call any witnesses.
“This is a hearing. We take testimony and evidence at a hearing. The case is dismissed with prejudice,” Fox said.
The dismissal of the case with prejudice means that Campbell cannot re-file it.
Campbell told reporters he plans to appeal the judge’s ruling. He said he did not need to call any witnesses and said he did not understand why the judge believed otherwise.
“There are no questions of fact left. It is entirely a question of law,” he said. “That was strange.”
Martin spokesman Alex Reed said Tuesday, “We’re happy to see that the issues have been resolved in favor of our office.”
The FOI law states that when information is requested in electronic form it should be provided in that form if the cost and time involved are minimal.
Reed said Tuesday it was necessary to give Campbell paper printouts of some of the documents he requested so that employees’ personal information could be redacted.
“A lot of things that are personnel, for information like that, to protect the employee that has to be redacted,” Reed said.
Campbell has been critical of Martin’s use of outside attorneys. Martin originally hired outside attorneys to represent him in Campbell’s lawsuit, but Fox granted a motion by Campbell to remove them, saying in an Aug. 12 ruling that state law requires a state official or agency to be represented by the attorney general unless the attorney general declines and the governor approves hiring outside counsel.
In October, Campbell filed a lawsuit alleging that Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr had violated the FOI law by responding to a request for his office’s phone records by releasing documents from which his personal cell phone number was redacted. Campbell alleges that the redaction makes it impossible to determine when Darr used the phone for state business.
That case is still pending.