Plaintiffs suing Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge claiming she has abused her authority — and illegally spent tax money to do it — to promote her own political ambitions have expanded their lawsuit against the Batesville Republican to beat a court-ordered deadline that would have seen most of the case dismissed.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Alice Gray ruled that only one of the lawsuit’s three claims against Rutledge, who is running for governor, could go to trial.
The judge stated she would dismiss the other two accusations for lack of evidence unless the plaintiffs could produce evidence to support those claims, that Rutledge’s advertising of the services of the attorney general’s office through public service announcements is actually a tactic to promote her candidacy for governor and that Rutledge’s participation in groups supporting former President Donald Trump, such as the Lawyers for Trump and The Rule of Law Defense Fund, was illegal.
The plaintiffs want the judge to declare Rutledge’s actions illegal and force her to reimburse the state for expenses.
Rutledge’s supporters have decried the litigation as baseless claims brought by detractors in the political minority. A Rutledge representative said Tuesday the attorney general has already been vindicated by the judge’s dismissal ruling and the lawsuit, even as amended, is still without merit.
“It comes as no surprise that a liberal-leaning lawyer and [plaintiffs] would file an amended complaint in their politically-motivated lawsuit that bears no legal standing,” office spokeswoman Amanda Priest said. “The court has already agreed Attorney General Rutledge’s ‘Rutledge Report’ public-service announcements are a legal and important educational tool that reaches millions of Arkansans.”
Monday’s amended lawsuit filing raises the page count from 11 to 17 pages. State lawyers have two weeks to respond to the expanded allegations. The lawsuit’s survival still is not assured. The judge has yet to rule on Rutledge’s arguments that she’s immune from suit.
Targeting the attorney general’s “Rutledge Report” campaign, the expanded filing notes that office spending on radio, television and media ads was $459,200 in the fiscal year before Rutledge took office. But since Rutledge announced her campaign for governor, she’s spent more than $2 million on “an extraordinary number of advertisements [that] appear multiple times each day,” the filing states.
The expanded suit further notes that Rutledge’s spending and advertising have grown so much that the Legislative Council held a hearing last year that included questions about whether Rutledge was actually promoting herself through her office.
The suit also describes a state Senate bill under consideration that would require the attorney general to regularly report all lawsuits the office is involved in, including how many tax dollars were spent, so lawmakers could determine the nature, purposes and costs of the litigation.
The surviving claim in the suit involves accusations that Rutledge exceeded her authority when she used her office to support lawsuits before the U.S. Supreme Court involving the outcome of last year’s presidential election and to help defend the National Rifle Association in federal litigation in New York seeking to dissolve the gun-rights group over accusations of illegal activity.
None of those efforts were successful.