- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan and his aide have a new attorney to defend them in a defamation lawsuit after the state attorney general’s office pulled out as their lawyers, citing a “conflict of interest.”

Officials with the attorney general’s office and the state treasurer’s office declined on Tuesday to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/1K7tbrp ) to reveal the nature of the conflict.

Attorney Byron Freeland, of the Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard PLLC law firm, has been hired to represent Milligan and his chief of staff, Jim Harris, in the lawsuit filed by a former employee in the treasurer’s office.

Milligan spokesman Grant Wallace said that Freeland was hired based on his experience and expertise, and that the treasurer’s office so far has paid the Mitchell law firm around $20,000.

Senior Assistant Attorney General C. Joseph Cordi Jr. told the defendants in a June 29 letter that “a conflict of interest prevents the Office of Attorney General from continuing to represent you, in either your individual or official capacities” in the suit.

“We therefore decline to further represent you pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 21-9-203(b) and authorize you to hire special counsel,” Cordi said.

The letter is dated a week after ex-employee David Singer’s attorney, Luther Sutter, notified a Pulaski County circuit judge that mediation between the parties had failed. Sutter requested that the judge consider his motion for a preliminary injunction that would grant a “name-clearing hearing” for Singer.

Singer said he was fired from his position as outreach manager earlier this year, without any explanation for his dismissal.

The lawsuit alleges that Harris made false statements about Singer’s mental health to co-workers and others, talked about Singer’s wife - who died last year after a long fight with breast cancer - in a “disgusting manner” and made statements accusing Singer of acting inappropriately with female employees.

Freeland notified the judge in a July 2 court filing that the lawsuit has been moved to a federal district court, and that he wants it there because the legal issues Singer has raised are federal matters.

A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said he was “not in a position to offer comment” and attorney general Leslie Rutledge declined to answer questions. Milligan also has declined requests for comment.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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