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Arkansas attorney general objects to interim corrections secretary, prison board’s private sessions

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Arkansas attorney general objects to interim corrections secretary, prison board’s private sessions

Feb 02, 2024 | 6:52 pm ET
By Hunter Field
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Arkansas attorney general objects to interim corrections secretary, prison board’s private sessions
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Attorney General Tim Griffin (left) and Board of Corrections Chairman Benny Magness (right). (Arkansas Advocate)

Arkansas’ attorney general has objected to the state prison board’s appointment of an interim corrections secretary, threatening a lawsuit if the plan moves forward.

Attorney General Tim Griffin told former state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams in a Thursday letter that only the governor has the authority to appoint a secretary of corrections. 

The board voted Wednesday to appoint Williams to lead the Department of Corrections until Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders appoints a replacement for former Secretary Joe Profiri, whom the Board of Corrections fired earlier last month.

“I strongly encourage you to decline the Board’s unlawful appointment,” Griffin wrote to Williams. “Your acceptance of such appointment may result in litigation being filed to prevent you from serving and being compensated as interim Secretary. Any compensation you may receive shall be subject to disgorgement.”

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Griffin asked Williams, a Republican former lawmaker and candidate for secretary of state, to respond by Friday at 3 p.m., but a Griffin spokesman said the office hadn’t received a reply.

“We are considering all our options,” Griffin said in a statement.

Williams also could not immediately be reached by the Advocate Friday afternoon.

Williams’ appointment is the latest development in the months-long dispute between the Board of Corrections and Sanders, Griffin and Profiri. 

The disagreement began over expanding the number of temporary inmate beds but has grown into a broader disagreement over who has authority over Arkansas’ prison system — a question that is likely to be decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Also on Friday, Griffin sent a letter to Board of Corrections Chairman Benny Magness accusing the board of violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act twice during Wednesday’s meeting when it entered executive sessions. 

Under Arkansas law, executive sessions are not open to the public and typically limited to discussions of personnel matters.

The first executive session centered around how to arrange payments for the outside attorney the board hired to represent it in litigation against Griffin. 

The second private session was to discuss Williams’ appointment. 

Neither session was lawful and individuals were allowed to attend the sessions who should not have been permitted, Griffin wrote. 

He said the board should reconvene to cure the illegal actions by Feb. 9.