Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has fired back at her Democratic opponent’s jabs claiming that she isn’t doing enough to protect Arkansas consumers and that she was in the wrong by filing an opioid lawsuit when a similar suit was already underway.


Both Rutledge and Democratic candidate for attorney general Mike Lee spoke to The Commercial recently about the race for the state’s top law enforcement job, sharing reasons for why they are the best qualified to hold the office.


Regarding the opioid lawsuit, Lee said that all 75 counties in the state, as well as a number of cities, decided to take a united front against drug manufacturers and distributors, joining together to file a lawsuit against 65 defendants. Jefferson County and the cities of Pine Bluff and White Hall are a part of that lawsuit.


“They wanted the attorney general to be a part of the lawsuit to present a more united front, but when they were ready to file the lawsuit, she surprised them by filing her own lawsuit against three defendants — the same three that other Republican attorneys general had filed suit against and she moved to dismiss the other lawsuit,” Lee, 70, said.


He said the State Supreme Court, after filings were completed from both sides, voted to let the lawsuit stand.


“Newsweek magazine looked at what the counties and cities were doing and called it a unique approach that could be a model which other states ought to follow,” Lee said.


Rutledge said Lee has his facts wrong.


“The reason why I filed a motion to have the prosecutor removed from that case and the state removed is because the prosecutor (Scott Ellington of the state’s second judicial district) doesn’t have the authority to represent the entire state. He is supposed to represent his district. That is the big reason why I wanted the state removed. There are millions of dollars of claims at stake. And some of those can only be brought by me as attorney general. They cannot be brought by a prosecutor or anyone else.”


Rutledge said the motion that she filed “was not to dismiss their entire lawsuit but to remove the prosecutor from the suit as representing the entire state. I think that this is an example of folks not fully understanding the nuances or the role of the attorney general. I am not willing to forgo millions of dollars in claims.”


Rutledge has filed her own suit against Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson in Pulaski County as part of her efforts to crack down on opioid manufacturers that she claims are participating in deceptive trade practices.


On the opioid epidemic itself, which has killed many thousands of people and created a public health crisis across the nation, Rutledge said she is working to “crack down on criminals who are selling.”


In addition, Rutledge said that “we must have more treatment facilities in the state in order for it to not be cost prohibitive for families to get their loved ones into treatment facilities. I travel to all 75 counties and talk to Arkansans. The opioid epidemic is hitting everyone. This epidemic does not care if you are white, black, Hispanic … it hits every single community. It takes a multi-faceted approach to fight.”


Rutledge touted a recently-created program that allows high school students a chance to take a 30-minute digital course on the dangers of addiction. She said she encourages Arkansans to visit her website and upload their stories of addiction and recovery.


“We want people to share their stories,” she said. “Too many people feel like they are in the dark as their loved one’s battle addition to prescription drugs. Another thing is we must clean out medicine cabinets of unused drugs and get them properly disposed of. They are getting into their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets looking for those high-powered medications.”


Rutledge continued: “We are losing so many lives to this epidemic. I was pleased to see the White House and Congress pass a bill to put more funding behind this problem. We have to have more resources to tackle this problem.”


Information about the drug take back program is available at https://www.artakeback.org/take-back/collection-sites/


Speaking on how her office has protected Arkansas consumers over the years, Rutledge touted the recent victory her office had over a car dealership’s violations of the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. A judge ruled that John Michael VanCuren and Michelle Nicole VanCuren violated the law 59 times over a three-year period. The couple owned VanCurens Auto Sales Inc. and Inifinity Auto Sales Inc.


Rutledge said she filed a complaint against the VanCurens in 2016 that alleged their companies had violated the anti-fraud law from 2013-16. Violations included failure to deliver title and falsification of documents, among other offenses.


Additionally, Rutledge says in campaign materials on her website that since January 2015, her office has had more Medicaid fraud convictions than the prior 16 years combined. Medicaid-related fraud convictions obtained include: 50 Medicaid provider convictions, 10 long-term care convictions, and 64 criminal convictions to date, her campaign website says.


“In 2015, I launched a unit to combat fraud in Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) which has saved taxpayers over 25 million dollars,” Rutledge says on her website.


In addition, she touts her efforts to safeguard veterans, seniors and consumers.


“As the daughter of a veteran, I knew we weren’t doing enough at the state level to support our veterans,” Rutledge says on her website. “That’s why I launched the Military and Veterans Initiative in 2015 to assist active-duty military, reservists, veterans, and their families with consumer-related issues, veterans courts, the Hiring Heroes program, and other collaborative efforts.


“I am committed to exposing and prosecuting con artists that intentionally target our veterans and seniors to fleece them out of their hard-earned money and benefits. As your Attorney General, I am educating Arkansans on consumer scams and fighting to end illegal robocalls.


“Since taking office, I have increased the effectiveness of the consumer division by reaching consumers in person at mobile offices in all 75 counties each year, on the phone, online and on social media resulting in more consumer complaints being filed with the office.”


Rutledge, 42, has served as Arkansas attorney general since 2015.