AG McDaniel admits 'inappropriate' relationship

Attorney represented group of parents suing state over school of choice

By Andrew DeMillo
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat and the only announced candidate for governor in 2014, admitted Tuesday that he had an inappropriate relationship with a Hot Springs attorney after court documents were filed alleging they had a sexual affair.

McDaniel, who has been married since June 2009, said he had a relationship with Andrea L. Davis, an attorney who represented a group of parents who successfully sued the state over its school choice law. McDaniel’s office represented the state in that case.

“With respect to Ms. Davis, I met her during the 2010 campaign. I had limited interaction with her in 2011, some of which I regret to say was inappropriate,” McDaniel said in a statement. A spokeswoman for McDaniel declined to answer any further questions about the nature of the relationship.

McDaniel’s name surfaced in a custody dispute between Davis and her ex-husband in Garland County. McDaniel’s admission was first reported by the Talk Business website Tuesday. In an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday night, Davis said she wouldn’t comment based on the advice of her attorneys.

The admission was a major setback for Democrats, who looked to McDaniel’s name recognition and fundraising to help the party rebound from losses in this year’s election.

In an October filing, Davis’ ex-husband, Frederick N. Day III, asked Davis to admit that she had sexual relations with McDaniel in 2011 or 2012.

Davis accused Day in a Dec. 3 filing of asking the question “solely to harass and annoy.”

In June, a federal judge struck down the school choice law that Davis and McDaniels were involved in, saying race couldn’t be the only factor considered in deciding whether students could transfer between districts.
Arkansas is appealing that decision, but state lawmakers are expected to consider proposals to rewrite the transfer law next year.

A spokesman for McDaniel said the case wasn’t affected by the extramarital relationship. Assistant Attorney General Scott Richardson is listed as the lead attorney for the state in the school choice case.

“This case has been ongoing since 2009,” said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office. “Our legal strategy has been consistent since that time, which the pleadings in this case clearly demonstrate.”

It’s unclear whether McDaniel or Davis could face a complaint before a disciplinary panel. The state’s professional conduct rules for attorneys says a conflict of interest exists if there’s a significant risk that a client’s representation will be “materially limited” by a personal interest of the lawyer.

Stark Ligon, director of the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct, said he can’t comment on specific cases. Lawyers who violate the conduct rules can face sanctions that include law license suspension and disbarment.

McDaniel, 40, announced in June that he would run for governor in 2014, and has already raised more than $1 million for his bid. Tricia Wallace, a spokeswoman for McDaniel, said Tuesday he did not plan to drop out of the race.

McDaniel, a former state representative from Jonesboro, was first elected attorney general in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010 without any major party opposition.

McDaniel and his first wife divorced in 2007. McDaniel said he has talked with his current wife, Bobbi, about the relationship.

“My wife Bobbi and I love each other very much,” McDaniel said. “I have been candid with her about this matter, and with much prayer, we have moved on with our life together. I hope the people of Arkansas will also accept my apology and know how honored I am to work for them every day.”

The admission comes a little over a month after Republicans won control of the state Legislature for the first time in 138 years. The state GOP sees the governor’s race and Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor’s re-election bid as their top prizes in 2014.

Republicans stopped short of criticizing McDaniel, but indicated they viewed the affair as an issue in the governor’s race.

“This is just another factor the voters of Arkansas will have to consider as they look to choose their next governor,” state GOP spokeswoman Katherine Vasilos said.

Potential rivals held off on criticizing McDaniel directly.

“That’s something he’ll deal with with his family. I don’t really have a response,” said Republican state Sen. Johnny Key, who is considering running for governor.

McDaniel’s campaign last week claimed its internal polling shows the attorney general could defeat former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter or highway commissioner John Burkhalter for the Democratic nomination in 2014, and that a general election race against Republican Asa Hutchinson would be a tighter race.

Halter was on vacation and unavailable for comment, a spokesman said. Burkhalter declined to comment.

Hutchinson, a former congressman, is expected to announce in January whether he’ll run.

“Susan and I wish only the best for Bobbi and Dustin and their family,” Hutchinson wrote in an email to The Associated Press.