Hot Springs, AR — In a flagrant turn of events at the Arkansas Bar Association meeting today, attorney and bar association member, Jen Standerfer, was unconstitutionally harassed and arrested for carrying FOIA petitions. Standerfer is also a representative for Arkansas Citizens for Transparency, a ballot question committee advocating for the passage of a FOIA amendment and initiated act. 

The incident, which took place at the Hot Springs Convention Center, raises serious concerns about the violation of Ms. Standerfer’s First Amendment rights and the suppression of public political speech, which the Arkansas Bar Association has long allowed. 

The dustup began last night when Ms. Standerfer had a wagon with supplies, a sign, and petitions at the convention center. Though she was not actively soliciting signatures, she was approached by a Hot Springs Police Department officer, Stg. Patrick Langley, who told Ms. Standerfer that two bar association members and a representative from the Convention Center wanted her to leave. Standerfer asserted her right to be there, but as a professional courtesy, told the officer she would leave the wagon in the car for the remainder of the event. 

Ms. Standerfer is a representative for Arkansans Citizens for Transparency, a group advocating to guarantee the right to government transparency and accountability in Arkansas.

Standerfer returned for the event to acquire professional development hours. She left her wagon in the car and carried a few clipboards with petitions but was not actively soliciting signatures. 

Despite the non-confrontational and entirely legal nature of her actions, Standerfer was singled out by representatives of both the Arkansas Bar Association and the Hot Springs Convention Center for carrying FOIA petitions. 

This is particularly egregious given the history of political speech and campaigning that occurs at bar association events, which routinely feature judicial candidates wearing and distributing campaign materials.

Today, Standerfer was again asked to leave the convention center. After two fellow bar members approached Standerfer to sign her petitions during a judicial roundtable session, a second Hot Springs police officer approached Standerfer. On instructions from the convention center and bar association officials, the officer demanded Standerfer leave, citing a supposed violation of the convention center’s solicitation policies.

Standerfer calmly stood her ground, asserting that the request was unconstitutional, as was the alleged policy. 

Despite her explanations and the fact that she was a paid attendee and member of the bar, she was arrested and handcuffed in front of a room full of judges and attorneys. 

Witnesses included some of Arkansas’ most prominent legal and judicial representatives, which highlighted the bizarre nature of the incident.

No other attendee was asked to leave. Additionally, Standerfer was told she was barred from reentering the center on the grounds of criminal trespassing. She was also told she was not allowed to collect signatures on the public sidewalk outside of the center.  

The treatment of Standerfer was not only unjust; it also serves as a stark contrast to the event’s tolerance of political activity. It’s clear that representatives of the bar and the convention center did not want the FOIA petition circulated, and they were willing to overlook Standerfer’s first amendment rights to ensure it. 

Today’s incident raises significant concerns about the abuse and overreach of power, the suppression of direct democracy, and the infringement on the rights of Arkansans to seek transparency in their government. 

The Hot Springs Convention Center, which is funded by taxpayer money and thus a public entity, has no legal grounds to prevent the circulation of petitions on its premises.

In an era where the transparency and accountability of government actions are paramount, the unconstitutional arrest of an attorney for merely carrying a petition to ensure just that — transparency and accountability — is a chilling reminder of the ongoing struggle to uphold democratic principles and protect civil liberties in Arkansas.

This story is developing, and further updates will be provided as more information becomes available.