Special Judge Appointed To Oversee Case Involving Judge’s Race, Attack Ads

FAYETTEVILLE (KFSM) — A central Arkansas judge has been assigned to hear a case involving a state Supreme Court justice and a local TV station after all seven Washington County Circuit Court judges recused themselves.

The state Supreme Court granted a request Thursday (May 17) to allow circuit court judge Mackie Pierce to preside over a case brought by Supreme Court Judge Courtney Goodson, who is trying to block a conservative group’s attack ad from airing.

Pierce serves on the 6th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Perry and Pulaski counties.

Goodson is running for reelection to the Supreme Court against state Appeals Court Judge Kenneth Hixson and Department of Human Services Chief Counsel David Sterling.

Washington County Circuit Judge Doug Martin on Monday (May 14) issued a temporary restraining order preventing some stations from airing the ad by the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based group criticizing Goodson ahead of the May 22 non-partisan judicial election.

The ad criticized Goodson over gifts from donors and a pay raise the court requested last year.

Goodson has called the ad false and defamatory, citing a finding from a nonprofit that was formed to respond to attacks in judicial races.

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.

Judicial Crisis Network has argued the judge should have recused himself from the case, citing a $1,000 contribution the judge received for his 2014 election from a donor whose gift is referred to in the ad.

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 for Keil and Goodson.

Goodson also sought a different judge to hear her case, citing concerns that had been raised about the court’s impartiality.

“This election has been tainted by dark money ads and it is not the desire of the plaintiffs for the public to question the impartiality of this court when such can be solved by a reassignment,” attorneys for Goodson said in their filing.

Martin said the temporary restraining order against the ad would remain in place despite recusing.

Tribune Broadcasting Fort Smith LLC, which owns KFSM and KXNW, has asked that Martin’s order be dissolved.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas criticized Martin’s order, calling it “clearly unconstitutional.”

“Judges should not be in the business of policing what can and cannot be said in a political campaign,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Rita Sklar said in a statement.

JCN, which targeted Goodson during her unsuccessful bid for chief justice two years ago, has spent more than $626,000 on ads criticizing Goodson and Hixson, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks judicial election spending.

Another group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has spent more than $564,000 on TV ads and mailers in support of Sterling, according to a campaign finance report filed this week.

Goodson has filed identical lawsuits trying to block the ad from airing from other parts of the state.