Judge orders broadcasters to stop airing ads targeting Arkansas justice

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Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson

Updated: An Arkansas judge has ordered several television broadcasters to stop airing ads targeting a state supreme court justice that are funded by the conservative group Judicial Crisis Network.

Judge Doug Martin of Washington County ruled Monday in a suit filed the same day by Justice Courtney Goodson and her re-election campaign, Arkansas Online reports here and here. The suit claimed the ads are “false, misleading and defamatory.”

The judicial election will be held May 22, but early voting has already begun.

The ads say Goodson accepted pricey gifts from lawyers and sought a raise of $18,000 a year. The lawsuit says the court as a whole makes requests regarding salaries, and Goodson has recused herself from cases involving donors and gift-givers.

Martin has himself been caught up in a judicial election controversy. He was censured in 2014 for unspecified statements made during his campaign, according to prior coverage by the Arkansas Blog and 5 News.

Another ad sponsored by Judicial Crisis Network targets Judge Kenneth Hixson for his majority opinion overturning the conviction of a man convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl. Hixson is a court of appeals judge who is running for a seat on the state supreme court.

Hixson countered with a statement asserting that “dark money and special interest groups are trying to buy a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court.” The Judicial Crisis Network does not disclose the sources of its funding.

Judicial Crisis Network did not comment when contacted by Arkansas Online, but it did forward a letter sent to two broadcasters that said threats of legal action were without merit.

Update: Martin recused himself on Wednesday after Arkansas Online reported that Martin’s wife had received income for legal work at Keil & Goodson, the law firm where Goodson’s husband, John Goodson, is a partner. Martin left in place the temporary restraining order when he announced the recusal.

Martin’s wife, Amy, donated $50 to Goodson’s campaign for chief justice in 2015. And Doug Martin’s campaign received a donation in 2014 from Fayetteville lawyer W.H. Taylor, whose gifts to Goodson were criticized in one of the attack ads.

All the other judges in Martin’s county also recused themselves, Arkansas Online reports. A special judge has been requested to hear Goodson’s case.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas said Martin’s order banning the ads “is clearly unconstitutional.” But it also said ads supporting or attacking the election of judicial candidates should be subject to financial disclosure requirements.

Judicial Crisis Network’s chief counsel and policy director, Carrie Severino, also issued a statement. “You can’t make this stuff up,” Severino said. “Judge Martin should be standing up for free speech instead of trying to protect his campaign donor and buddies.”

Hat tip How Appealing.

Story updated on May 17.

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