A nonpartisan group that monitors Arkansas judicial campaigns says its initial review of ads targeting Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson indicate the ads contain false and misleading information.
The complaint against the Judicial Crisis Network was made by the Goodson campaign to the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee, a nonprofit group formed to educate the public about judicial campaigns.
The complaint was reviewed by the committee’s Rapid Response Team composed of retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Audrey Evans, attorneys Danyelle Walker and Elizabeth Andreoli, Ouachita Baptist University political science professor Hal Bass, and journalist Roy Ockert.
“Today I have been vindicated by the Rapid Response Team for what I’ve said all along are defamatory statements about me made by faceless cowards,” Goodson said in a press release. “Why do they want to spend 1.5 million dollars to buy a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court? Many people in our state would like to ask them, but we don’t know who they are or where they are hiding.”
The Judicial Crisis Network is a conservative Washington, D.C.-based group whose website says is dedicated to limited government and “a fair and impartial judiciary.” It opposes efforts that “unconstitutionally expand the power of government” and “threaten American sovereignty.” The organization does not disclose its donors.
Its television advertisements accuse Goodson of receiving gifts and money from donors and law firms with cases before the court, and that Goodson asked for an $18,000 raise. Mailers published by the group charged Goodson with going on a luxury vacation with her husband that included a cruise on a yacht owned by a contributor, and that she asked for the $18,000 raise.
The Rapid Response Team said Goodson’s campaign had provided a list of cases involving donors from which she has recused. Those cases involved her attorney husband John Goodson; his law firm of Keil and Goodson; W.H. Taylor & Associates; Tyson Foods; and the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, on which John Goodson serves.
“Justice Courtney Goodson did not hear cases that were filed by or on behalf of a Donor,” the Rapid Response Team wrote. “Because Justice Goodson recused from hearing those cases, donors did not receive benefits from Justice Goodson.”
As for the pay raise issue, the team found “no evidence” to support the accusation that Goodson had requested a pay raise. The $18,000 raise was requested by Chief Justice Dan Kemp to the Independent Citizens Commission, which ultimately approved a raise of $3,330. That request followed a confidential vote by the justices on whether to seek the raise.
“There is no information, nor should there be information, as to whether Courtney Goodson voted for or against requesting a raise,” the Rapid Response Team said. It said Goodson would be violating her duty of confidentiality if she revealed how she voted.
The ruling says the Goodson campaign has “met its initial burden to support its complaint that JCN’s advertisements are false or misleading.” The Judicial Crisis Network had 24 hours to respond to the findings. If that organization doesn’t respond, the finding said the Rapid Response Team could issue a cease and desist letter that it would publish on its website, www.arkansasjudges.org, and that it also would issue press releases accusing the Judicial Crisis Network of running false and misleading ads.
The cease and desist letter does not have the force of law.
Linda Napper, Goodson’s campaign chairman, said Goodson’s claim that the Judicial Crisis Network has spent $1.5 million to defeat Goodson is a conservative estimate. She said JCN has purchased $700,000 worth of television ads in the Little Rock market and $500,000 in the Northwest Arkansas market, plus spent money on online advertisements, radio, mailers and polling.
The Judicial Crisis Network ran ads opposing Goodson during her unsuccessful 2016 campaign against now-Chief Justice Dan Kemp. In 2014, it ran ads against Attorney General Leslie Rutledge when she was a candidate.
In her Supreme Court race, Goodson faces Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson and attorney David Sterling, chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services.