Washington Co. Justice Of The Peace Suing County Judge Over Alleged FOIA Violation

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) — Washington County Justice of the Peace Eva Madison is suing County Judge Joseph Wood, arguing he violated the state Freedom of Information Act by failing to turnover the county’s correspondence with the city of Tontitown regarding a contract for a road project.

The suit, filed Wednesday (Nov. 28) in Washington County Circuit by Madison’s attorney, Autumn Tolbert, names three co-defendants:  Charles Ward, the county’s road superintendent; Carl Gales, Wood’s chief of staff; and Julie Harris, Wood’s executive assistant.

Madison has asked a judge to order the county to turn over the documents. She also seeks relief for her attorney fees and court costs, according to the suit.

Madison said she had questions over a recent overlay project the county released for bids, which included a portion of Klenc Road that’s within the Tontitown city limits, according to the suit.

During the Nov. 15 Quorum Court Budget and Finance Committee meeting, Madison said she questioned why the county was doing work inside a city and if it impacted the 2019 budget. She said Wood ignored her questions and Gales declined to answer them, according to the suit.

She said county attorney Brian Lester later told her in a letter the project wasn’t included in the 2019 budget.

Lester said the county and city agreed the city would pay for the labor and materials, according to the suit.

Lester didn’t immediately return a message left Thursday (Nov. 29) by 5NEWS.

Madison said she requested the records from Wood, Gales and Ward on Nov. 15, but never heard back.

Madison also accused Harris of withholding photographs that show her standing during a ceremony to honor justices of the peace who are veterans.

Madison claimed Lester posted the photo on Facebook and defamed her by saying she didn’t stand to honor the veterans.

The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act requires public records, when “in active use” or storage, be turned over “within three working days,” according to Arkansas Code Annotated 25-19-105(e).

Violating the statute is a Class C misdemeanor, which are the least serious misdemeanors in Arkansas.

They carry a punishment up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500.

Madison, a Democrat representing District 9, was unopposed in the 2018 general election. She has served as a justice of the peace since 2010. Her district covers a large part of northeast Fayetteville between College Avenue and Crossover Road.

Wood, a Republican, was first elected county judge in 2016. He won re-election to a four-year term in 2018.