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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: A judge, finally

by Mike Masterson | July 18, 2021 at 1:44 a.m.

Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen, his law partner Chip Sexton and UALR law professor Robert Steinbuch had the darnedest time trying to find a circuit judge to hear the Freedom of Information Act case against the Fayetteville School District filed on June 25.

The action on behalf of Ila Campbell, who had sent an unresolved FOIA request in early May and again on June 10, largely involved the district's curriculum and plans.

Under Arkansas law, FOIA cases are to be heard within seven days of being filed.

Four judges all recused from hearing the case without explanation or even responding (as of late last week) to a reporter's queries. That seems beyond odd to me.

Finally, last week, Fourth Circuit Judge Mark Lindsay agreed to hear the case. I was beginning to wonder if there was an Arkansas judge who could professionally conduct a hearing on this lawsuit in the public interest, regardless of who is involved.

You may recall that McCutchen is the lawyer I refer to as the bulldog, which is exactly what he becomes when he's defending the public's right to know.

In this instance, Campbell and the law firm have asked the district for some relatively basic information regarding specific curriculum and its decision-making.

For instance, they want to know everything they can learn about the district's "equity plan," and all documentation related to potential curriculum involving the highly controversial "critical race theory." They also seek any and all correspondence related to a group known as Converge Social Justice Consulting Firm as well as similar materials related to LGBTQ policies and gender support plans.

The attorneys even have asked for any and all information involving the district's use of the word Christmas.

In essence, they seek all communication in any form between the district staff, employees, school board members, city council members and the mayor's office related to the FOIA request.

The district did provide 8,000 documents from its leadership team. But that was after Campbell's two FOIA requests went unanswered and McCutchen's group wound up filing the lawsuit on Campbell's behalf.

The district basically responds that it didn't violate FOIA and McCutchen's request is too broad and onerous and should apply only to the district's leadership team.

Circuit Judges Beth Storey, Doug Martin, John Threet and Stacy Zimmerman all chose to avoid (without explanation) what appears to me to be a blistering hot potato.

McCutchen contends the district "absolutely violated FOIA" with its initial failure to respond to Campbell's request in a timely manner and has been ready to head for court since May.

He's also never heard of an FOIA case where four judges recused themselves without comment. I just gotta say, valued readers, neither have I.

Everyone else enjoying this straightforward, fearless republic of laws we've created?

Formidable fundraising

I did a double-take the other day after reading that GOP gubernatorial candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders already has raised over $9 million from more than 67,000 contributors, breaking a record for the most money ever raised by any candidate for Arkansas governor.

Sounds mighty formidable to me, regardless of your political leanings.

Of that amount, $4.2 million was raised during the second quarter, including over $1.5 million from Arkansans. Her obviously popular campaign reportedly raised more than $3 million from about 9,000 Arkansans.

And the election is still two football seasons away.

Shaking the ants

Perhaps you also saw the meme on social media last week that said red fire ants and black ants ordinarily live side-by-side in harmony.

That's their basic demeanor until I put both species into a jar together and shake them vigorously. At that point, they rise up and begin attacking each other, as if to blame the other for the disruption.

But the real one to blame wasn't the ants; rather, it was me shaking them into a state of anger.

The meme was intended to serve as an analogy of what is being done across human society today. The real culprits in generating mindless hate and division among Americas are the ones intentionally and methodically doing the shaking throughout our population, while their minions continually publicize it and demonize any group that speaks against the tactic.

A bit of food for thought today.

Taking the vaccine

I want valued readers to know Jeanetta and I had both of our covid-19 vaccinations in January and February without complications.

With both of us in our 70s and in a higher-risk category, we were anxious and thankful for the vaccine, and we haven't had a twinge of regret. That said, I encourage every Arkansan to reflect deeply on their decision, then hopefully choose to join us in finally bringing an end to this scourge.

Our hospitals are full again. The struggle is far from over.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]

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