Judge halts ad bashing Arkansas justice seeking re-election

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A northwest Arkansas judge temporarily blocked some TV stations from running a conservative group's ad targeting a state Supreme Court justice seeking re-election.

Washington County Circuit Court Judge Doug Martin on Monday issued a temporary restraining order preventing the stations from running the ad from the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based group that has been criticizing Justice Courtney Goodson ahead of the May 22 nonpartisan judicial election. Goodson is running against Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson and state Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling. The group is also running ads against Hixson.

Martin scheduled a hearing for Thursday morning on Goodson's lawsuit over the ad, which criticizes the justice over gifts received from donors and a pay raise the court requested last year.

"Despite being notified, defendants are actively republishing this defamatory material and hold the FCC licenses for the media market," Martin wrote. "JCN advertising are false and continued publication of such ads demonstrate the defendants' reckless disregard for whether the ad is true or false. All of which constitutes actual malice on the part of the defendants."

Goodson has called the ad false and defamatory, citing a finding from a nonprofit that was formed to respond to attacks in judicial races. A Fact Check by The Associated Press earlier this month also found that some of the ad's claims regarding the pay raise request were misleading.

On Tuesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that judge Martin reported receiving income, through his wife, from the law firm of Goodson's husband. Goodson is married to attorney John Goodson, a partner at the Texarkana firm of Keil and Goodson. In his 2017 statement of financial interest, Martin reported that his wife, Amy, earned more than $12,500 for legal services performed by Keil and Goodson. The newspaper said a call to the judge's chambers about the income was not returned.

Goodson on Monday filed another lawsuit aimed at halting the ads in the Little Rock area, and a judge was scheduled to hold a hearing in that case on Friday morning. Goodson filed a third lawsuit Tuesday to halt the ads in the Fort Smith area.

"We believe in the system and we are putting this complaint before the system," Lauren Hoover, an attorney for Goodson, said. "Whether we're victorious or not, we're not going to lay down and take it from Washington, DC."

Judicial Crisis Network did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday, but has called the justice's lawsuit without merit.

JCN targeted Goodson during her unsuccessful run for chief justice two years ago. The group, which doesn't disclose its donors, has spent more than $571,000 on television ads in the state Supreme Court race so far this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending in judicial elections.

Another group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has spent $200,000 to run ads in support of Sterling's bid for the court. RSLC on Tuesday also launched an ad targeting Appeals Court Judge Bart Virden, who's seeking re-election next week, and backing his challenger.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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