LITTLE ROCK — In a reversal of a ruling it handed down Monday, the Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed a circuit judge’s order that directed the state to disclose information about one of the three drugs it plans to use in a series of executions this month.
The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a motion by the state to stay a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen that the state Department of Correction must provide the unredacted package inserts and product labels for its supply of potassium chloride to Little Rock lawyer Steven Shults, who has filed a lawsuit seeking the materials.
The state’s top court said Monday it was dismissing the appeal because the state failed to file the written order by Griffen. Justices Rhonda Wood and Shawn Womack said they would have directed the state to file the written order instead of dismissing the appeal.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge appealed again and filed with her second appeal a 34-page case record. On Tuesday the Supreme Court issued an order granting an immediate stay of Griffen’s ruling, without comment.
According to Rutledge’s court filings, the state Department of Correction previously provided Shults with an unredacted copy of the package insert for the potassium chloride and a redacated copy of the label for the drug.
Lot, batch and control numbers were redacted because disclosing them could lead to identification of the seller and/or supplier, according to Rutledge.
In its order Tuesday, the Supreme Court said Womack differed from the rest of the justices in that he would have not only stayed Griffen’s motion but also ordered that Shults return the previously provided information and issued a protective order barring the parties from releasing any of the previously provided information to a third party.
Griffen said in a ruling from the bench Thursday the Department of Correction must release the requested materials in unredacted form because the state’s lethal-injection law requires that information about the suppliers of execution drugs be kept secret but does not require that a drug manufacturer’s package inserts and product labels be kept secret. He filed his written order Friday.
Rutledge maintains that releasing the unredacted materials is prohibited by the law because doing so could lead to disclosure of the supplier of the potassium chloride.
Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement Tuesday, “Arkansas law requires the Department of Correction to keep confidential all information that may lead to the identification of those who test, sell or supply the drug or drugs used in the execution process. Attorney General Rutledge is pleased that the state Supreme Court acted quickly to stay the lower court’s ruling while the appeal proceeds.”
Shults did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Arkansas is scheduled to execute eight inmates between April 17 and April 27. The state is seeking to carry out the executions before its supply of one of its execution drugs expires April 30.
The secrecy provision in the lethal-injection law is aimed at overcoming obstacles in obtaining drugs to use in executions. Arkansas has not executed an inmate since 2005 because of legal challenges and difficulty obtaining execution drugs.
The inmates have filed various lawsuits in state and federal court seeking to block their executions, including one filed in federal court that alleges the inmates have been improperly disadvantaged by the accelerated pace of the execution schedule.