LITTLE ROCK - An employee of the state Treasurer’s Office testified in federal court Wednesday that he was advised by the state Attorney General’s Office to release to the news media an email that is at the heart of a defamation lawsuit.
An attorney noted that the claim contradicts previous testimony from a former assistant attorney general.
Grant Wallace, spokesman and chief deputy treasurer for Treasurer Dennis Milligan, testified in a civil trial in a lawsuit filed by David Singer, who was fired by Milligan on April 27, 2015. The suit alleges that Milligan’s chief of staff, Jim Harris, defamed Singer and that Milligan discriminated against Singer by firing him for a perceived disability.
Wallace testified that after Singer was fired, he received multiple requests from reporters for the release of documents under the state Freedom of Information Act, with some of the requests seeking emails pertaining to Singer.
He said he asked then-Assistant Attorney General Amy Ford in a phone call whether he should release an email from early April 2015 that included speculation by Harris that Singer had mental problems, and if so whether any parts of the email should be redacted.
Wallace said Ford responded “that it was releasable and nothing needed to be redacted.”
Matt Campbell, a lawyer representing Singer, noted that Ford testified earlier in the trial that she was not asked about an email containing speculation about Singer’s mental health and would not have advised releasing it if she had been asked about it.
“If Ms. Ford testified that in your discussions with her nobody said anything about concerns about mental health in this email, would she be lying?” Campbell asked.
“I would think so, because I directly asked, I specifically remember asking about it,” Wallace said.
“If Ms. Ford testified that she would not have advised you to release this email over the phone if she’d been informed of the entirety of the email, would she be lying?” Campbell asked.
“Yes, because she did,” Wallace said.
Campbell also noted that under the FOI law, a custodian of records who receives a request for personnel or employee evaluation records must attempt to notify the subject of the records before releasing them. He asked Wallace why he did not notify Singer before releasing the email containing Harris’ comments.
Wallace said the email was not an employee evaluation but was “more of what Mr. Harris had observed.”
Campbell pointed out that the email contained criticism of Singer’s job performance.
“There may be one line, but the entirety of the email I didn’t think was regarding his work performance,” Wallace said.
The email was included in on-air reporting by Little Rock television station KATV and published on the station’s website, all of which Singer alleges was engineered by Harris to defame him.
KATV reporter Marine Glisovic testified Monday that she obtained the email through an FOI request after Harris went to the station, showed her the email and encouraged her to request it, saying, “If you want the story, this is the real story.”
Wallace testified Wednesday that Glisovic already had obtained the email through an FOI request before Harris went to the station.
“She did have that email, because I know I responded before (Harris) went,” Wallace said.
Glisovic testified Monday that she did not know whether the documents she obtained before Harris’ visit included the email because she had not had time to read all the documents before Harris went to the station.
Wallace and Jason Brady, Milligan’s deputy chief of staff, both testified Wednesday that they were disappointed that Singer, a former regional circulation manager for the Pine Bluff Commercial, did not perform satisfactorily his duties of managing social media, being a legislative liaison and, later, serving as outreach manager for the treasurer’s office.
They also said Singer was insubordinate toward them.
“He thought we were basically a bunch of morons that didn’t know what we were doing,” Wallace said.
Harris, who is being sued as an individual and not in his official capacity, is paying for is own defense, according to the treasurer’s office. Singer is seeking punitive damages against Harris but not against Milligan.