Thu, Apr 14, 2022 3:15 PM
By By Kim Jarrett The Center Square, The Center Square
(The Center Square) – The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Attorney General Leslie Rutledge did not violate the law by spending money for advertisements on consumer education and does not have to repay the state the $1.7 million paid for them.
The decision tosses out ruling by a circuit court judge on all but one measure, which Supreme Court jurists said the lower court did not address.
The lawsuit was filed by eight Arkansas residents in January 2021 and claimed Rutledge was running the ads to boost her campaign for governor. The attorney general announced her candidacy July 1, 2020, but since has stepped down and endorsed Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Rutledge announced in November she would run for lieutenant governor instead.
The plaintiffs claimed the advertisements, which cost an estimated $1.7 million, "were an effort to promote her candidacy for the office of governor."
The court disagreed.
"Here, plaintiffs failed to show how the attorney general’s actions violated the law," the court said in its ruling. "Indeed, the statute allows the attorney general to spend money from her 'Consumer Education and Enforcement Account' for consumer education. She can spend this money 'in a manner determined by the office of attorney General.' Plaintiffs do not dispute that the ads concerned consumer education."
The court said Rutledge could not be held personally liable for the advertising expenses because the plaintiffs failed to "identify malicious acts."
Rutledge did not violate any laws by joining out-of-state lawsuits, the court ruled.
"Plaintiffs argue this interest arises only if the state of Arkansas is a party to the lawsuit," the court said. "But the statute contains no such limitation, and we refuse to impose a restriction absent from the statutory text."
An illegal-exaction claim against Rutledge in her official capacity still stands because it was not addressed by the lower court, according to the ruling.
"Still, this is not because we have found the claim to have merit but because we cannot evaluate the merits at this point," the ruling stated. "Further, the attorney general’s absolute-immunity motion remains outstanding."
Rutledge called the case a "frivolous stunt of a lawsuit by my political opponents."
“For the last seven and half years, my office has held bad businesses accountable, taken legal actions against the federal government’s illegal mandates, and assisted hundreds of thousands of Arkansans who reached out in need," Rutledge said in a statement. "The supreme court’s decision has major implications for every officeholder in the state, and I’m proud of my team for this victory.”