Thursday, September 11, 2014

'DNR': DHS made it clear it didn't want to rehire Leslie Rutledge when she left the state agency

Posted By on Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 5:01 AM

click to enlarge 'DO NOT REHIRE': A note in Leslie Rutledge's personnel record at DHS.
  • 'DO NOT REHIRE': A note in Leslie Rutledge's personnel record at DHS.

Leslie Rutledge, the Republican nominee for attorney gene
click to enlarge LESLIE RUTLEDGE: A resume question.
  • LESLIE RUTLEDGE: A resume question.
ral against Democratic state Rep. Nate Steel, has had a career distinguished by frequent movement among public and political jobs.

Among others, she's worked for a Jacksonville lawyer, been a law clerk at the Court of Appeals for old family friend Judge Jo Hart, a lawyer on Gov. Mike Huckabee's staff, a deputy prosecuting attorney in Lonoke county, a lawyer on the Huckabee presidential campaign, a lawyer for the National Republican Congressional Committee and a lawyer for the Republican National Committee.

Also, she worked for a time in the Division of Children and Family Services for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. I had heard there was some controversy associated with her departure from that agency. There is at least a mystery and records I obtained under FOI reveal a resume mark with a negative connotation.

She resigned from the job Dec. 3, 2007 in a brief letter "effective immediately." She offered no explanation and thanked Chief Counsel Breck Hopkins for the experience, with a carbon copy to Lisa McGee, her supervisor and now DHS chief deputy counsel. In papers I've posted here, McGee filled out Rutledge's termination of employment form. She scratched out the blank that said "voluntary" and wrote in "See att'd. e-mail." That's the email shown above, written 10 days after the resignation. There is no other explanation in the record I received for a do-not-rehire notation. McGee would not answer further questions nor would department spokesman Amy Webb. They said the FOI release was the extent of comment that could be provided.

The personnel file documents show Rutledge went to work at DHS In October 2006 as an "emergency hire" and at a special rate of pay, $42,500. This coincidentally, would have been three months before one of her former employers, Mike Huckabee, would leave office to be succeeded by Mike Beebe. Her work in juvenile court was cited as a plus in the division to handle cases in juvenile court in Pulaski County.

Here's the personnel file released by DHS in response to an FOI request.
The law limits what may be released about state employees. Assessments of work are protected unless they form the basis for firing or suspension. So if there are other documents that might explain this note, they are not open to public inspection. Here's what Rutledge said when I asked about it:

I resigned from my job as an attorney at the Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services on Monday, December 3rd, 2007, to accept a position on Governor Mike Huckabee's Presidential campaign. I immediately began working as counsel to his Presidential campaign the next day on Tuesday, December 4th, 2007. My personnel form at DHS was originally marked "voluntary" since I had tendered my resignation but was scratched out and changed 10 days later to reflect otherwise. However, I was not aware that my personnel records had been altered by DHS employees until my records were requested under the Freedom of Information Act during this campaign.

On the day of my resignation from DHS, I handled several cases in Judge Rita Gruber's court where I had been countless times during my tenure at DHS and informed the Judge of my intent to leave DHS to join the Huckabee for President Campaign. Please feel free to reach out to Judge Gruber with questions about my work ethic and professionalism. 

It's certainly a matter of record Rutledge was campaigning for Huckabee. In August 2007, she joined a Huckabee bus to help his candidacy in the Iowa caucuses and provided some reports to the Arkansas Times about it.

But why the "do not rehire" status?

My guess is that it was because I did not give a two weeks notice.

Maybe so. Rutledge seems insistent that the resignation wasn't requested or prompted by any incident at or outside work. DHS is silent. But I don't think it's too much to ask for more. Rutledge could, for example, free DHS officials to speak freely. More needs to be known when a person seeking the state's top legal job has a record that indicates she wasn't suitable for rehiring to a staff level job at an agency she might soon have to defend in court.

And speaking of DHS and the attorney general:

Michael Morton, the owner of Fort Smith nursing homes, has kicked in at least a whopping $60,000 to Rutledge's campaign personally and by multiple nursing home corporations .  Most recently, he hit a $20,000 lick in June. And I may have missed some money in digging hurriedly through the voluminous filings..

Why does it matter?

Nursing homes reap significant sums from Medicaid. The attorney general's office has a Medicaid fraud division. Oversight of nursing homes has long been viewed as part of the office's mission. Morton was the major backer to a number of judicial candidates, particularly in Faulkner County, where his dough helped propel Rhonda Woods to a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court and was helping what Mike Maggio thought would be an easy race for Court of Appeals until his scandal broke.

Morton gives to a lot of people, but his influence is significant in a race that has a direct involvement in his type of business.

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