LITTLE ROCK — Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office deflected partisan criticism Thursday that the Republican advocate for smaller government has repeatedly wasted money hiring outside lawyers instead of using in-house counsel to represent him.
The legality of Martin’s choice of counsel is being challenged in court.
"Does Mark Martin’s hypocrisy know no bounds?" Democratic Party of Arkansas spokeswoman Candace Martin asked in a news release accusing the secretary of state of spending $100,000 to hire outside counsel to represent his office despite employing staff lawyers with combined annual salaries of well over $250,000.
"He campaigned on smaller government but is the only SOS in modern state history to hire outside counsel, wasting thousands of tax dollars and bringing new heights of hypocrisy to the office of Secretary of State," said Candace Martin, no relation to Mark Martin.
Alex Reed, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, declined to respond directly to the comments by the Democratic Party spokeswoman, but he said that Mark Martin "has been committed to efficiency in government since he was in the Legislature."
Mark Martin’s hiring of outside counsel was first questioned by liberal blogger Matt Campbell, who filed a motion in Pulaski County Circuit Court on Wednesday asking Circuit Judge Tim Fox to disqualify lawyers Chad Pekron and Joseph W. Price II from representing Martin in a lawsuit that Campbell filed July 1. The lawsuit alleges Mark Martin did not adequately comply with a Freedom of Information Act request that Campbell submitted in June.
In his motion, Campbell noted that Arkansas Code Annotated 25-16-702 states that "the attorney general shall be the attorney for all state officials, departments, institutions, and agencies" and that legal advice "for state officials, departments, institutions, and agencies shall be given by the attorney general and his or her assistants, and no special counsel shall be employed or additional expense paid for those services."
The law allows the governor to authorize the hiring of outside counsel for a state official if the attorney general declines to do so, but Martin hired Pekron and Price without first contacting Gov. Mike Beebe or Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, according to the motion by Campbell, who runs the Blue Hog Report blog.
The law also states that "any person violating the provisions of this section shall be subject to indictment and upon conviction fined in any sum not less than $200 nor more than two thousand dollars $2,000 and, upon proper proceedings, removed from office."
Reed said he could not confirm or dispute the accuracy of the claim that Martin has spent $100,000 on outside counsel but acknowledged that Martin has hired outside counsel at least six times.
One of those times was when Martin and Democrats Beebe and McDaniel were sued over the work they did in redrawing the state’s legislative districts as the members of the three-person state Board of Apportionment. When the case went to trial in 2012, Martin hired former Republican U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson to represent him.
"There was no mention of it then," Reed said.
He declined to comment further.
"Our policy is not to comment on litigation like that, but the attorney is working on filing a response to the lawsuit, and that will be filed soon," he said.