Thursday, August 2, 2007

Let freedom ring -- UPDATED

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2007 at 2:57 PM

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Circuit Judge Mary McGowan has reconsidered Ron Quillin's steamy e-mails (the beaver trapper turned county comptroller is pictured at left) and ordered most of the accused embezzler's mash notes to his paramour released. She said it was impossible to tell where business ended and monkey business began because the woman was a county computer vendor and the subject came up frequently, along with business trips that included extracurricular activities.

If you're just tuning in, this is the Freedom of Information suit filed by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for e-mails generated by Quillin while county comptroller. He now faces criminal charges for stealing county money for personal use, in part to spend on his girl friend.

McGowan initially held the e-mail  -- generated on county time and computers -- was public information. The Supreme Court, in a 4-3 ruling, dealt a crippling blow to the FOI Act by holding that she had to review each e-mail individually and determine if there was some public purpose in release of personal communications. In that the mail constitutes a record of Quillin's relationship with a high-dollar vendor of computer services, clearly everything should be released, we believed from the start. It's the only way to put the work product and his official travel in the context of other activities.

County Attorney Karla Burnett and County Judge Buddy Villines have decided to keep up their battle to keep the e-mails secret. They will file notice of appeal and ask for a stay of the order.

The judge gave them 24 hours to decide whether to appeal or turn over the material to those, including the Times, who've requested it. Late in the day, Burnett said they would appeal. UPDATE: Friday, Judge McGowan stayed her order.

Good. I think it will highlight the stupidity of the Supreme Court's ruling by giving them the batch of notes to review one by one. And while they're at it, differentiate between dirty words and dirty pictures, both of which illustrate inappropriate use of county time and machinery.

The judge's review of the e-mails should only heighten public outrage at county government. Some of the e-mails Villines is fighting to keep secret clearly relate to the work the software contractor's firm did for the county -- and complaints about same. This is too personal for release? Other notes blend the professional and the personal. As the judge noted, "There are many e-mails that indicate that Quillin favors Doe regarding business besides pleasure."

She also writes: "The personal relationship may have influenced Quillin in expenditures of funds of Pulaski County. Further, there are more instances in which, if the public were not allowed to know, information concerning public money may not come to light." She mentioned items of clothing and jewelry that "may or may not have come from a county account."

The judge quotes from an exchange about a dress and pair of sandals costing about $500.

Doe: "Pretty"

Quillin: "Only if you were in it. I have to watch it. I could fall into a mushy mood today. lol."

Doe: "I'm purring as I type."

Quillin: "Oooh baby! You know what ur purring makes me do and what I think about. Hard firm tongue pressed against u, just waiting for ur body to shutter [sic]!"

Doe: "Hey now. This is work email. Goofball."

Quillin: "Delete, delete, delete."

Comments the judge: "This exchange certainly resolves the issue of any expectation of privacy either Doe or Quillin had in conversing on a county computer and the software vendor's business email."

In ordering all e-mails released, the judge said it was impossible to discern which particular ones were purely personal and had no relationship to business. She excluded three "graphically sexually explicit photos" Quillin sent on the county computer to Doe and three graphically sexually explicit photos she sent from her business address to Quillin's county address.

She also excluded seven e-mails sent on a chain of fowards to various county officials and Doe. They appear to be jokes, cartoons and photos.

And I just thought of this: Will the Democrat-Gazette appeal to see The Full Monty?

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