Freedom Of Information Suit Comes After Jefferson County Election Commission Dispute

Apr 6, 2016

Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stuart Soffer, seen here in a video taken by Floyd Donald and posted online by attorney Lawrence Walker.
Credit Floyd Donald / Lawrence Walker

A Little Rock attorney has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against a Jefferson County Election commissioner.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Lawrence Walker, alleges that Jefferson County Election Commissioner Stuart "Stu" Soffer failed to honor Walker’s Freedom of Information Act requests.

Walker asked for email correspondence or documentation relating to Soffer’s role as an election official. Court records show Soffer replied that he does not hold, or it is not his official duty to hold, the documents and correspondence requested by Walker. In the suit, Walker is being represented by attorney Crystal Okoro of North Little Rock.

“I am not a public employee or custodian of records for any public entity,” replied Soffer in one email to Walker's requests, which are attached to court documents. “Therefore, I do not have administrative control of nor do I possess any public records in my home. Moreover, I am not required to retain copies of any communications or documents, and as a practice do not.”

Tensions have been high on the Jefferson County Election Board. Police were called to an incident last week when Soffer, a Republican, pulled a handgun to his side while arguing with former Democratic commissioner Theodis “Ted” Davis after a meeting. The incident was captured on video and posted online.

“I’m 74 years old. I felt threatened for my life,” says Soffer in the video. He is later seen displaying his concealed carry permit to a Pine Bluff police officer.

The argument reportedly resulted after the commission’s Republican chairman Mike Adam adjourned the meeting without letting Davis, Jefferson County Judge-elect Henry “Hank” Wilkins and another man, Michael McCray, speak during the meeting’s pubic comments period. McCray and Wilkins are also Democrats. In the video, Wilkins contends that he had signed up to speak, which Soffer disputes.

The Pine Bluff Commercial reported that Davis intended to speak about a proposed ordinance the Election Commission is referring to the Jefferson County Quorum Court. The ordinance would potentially strip the county judge’s authority to hire and fire election coordinators and bestow that power in the commission.

Wilkins, a former state legislator, was elected Jefferson County Judge in a runoff last month.

This post was edited on 4/7/16.