Arkansas Supreme Court Associate Justice Courtney Goodson waited approximately 20 hours after the swearing-in of Howard Brill as interim Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court to announce her candidacy for the seat next year on a campaign Facebook page.
She’s been planning for the race for months, though some uncertainty existed because of questions of whether Chief Justice Jim Hannah might seek re-election in 2016 despite a state law that would have caused him to forfeit his judicial retirement had he been elected after turning 70. A lawsuit challenges that requirement. Hannah ended the uncertainty by retiring effective Sept. 1 for health reasons. Gov. Asa Hutchinson named Brill, a UA law professor, to complete Hannah’s term. By law, he cannot run for the seat.
Goodson doesn’t have to resign her current seat to make the race. Should she win, the governor would appoint a replacement to serve until the next election for that seat.
No one else has announced for the seat, though several have been trying to recruit a candidate. Time is short. Filing ends Nov. 9. The election is in March, with a runoff, if necessary, in November.
Supreme Court races are statewide and have become expensive, particularly with the arrival of dark money from unidentified sources that has played key roles in recent Supreme Court campaigns with attack ads. Current Justice Robin Wynne was elected with the help of attack ads smearing his opponent Tim Cullen. Hundreds of thousands were spent by unknown sources.
Goodson carries some baggage that could be exploited in a contested race. She’s married to John Goodson, a wealthy class action lawyer and University of Arkansas trustee who’s recently opened a Washington lobbying firm. He’s played a role in helping raise money for others on the court, notably Justices Karen Baker and Jo Hart, and there’s wide speculation that he’s tied to some of the dark money that has been spent in court races.
She and Goodson took a $50,000 trip to Italy on a Tyson Foods yacht courtesy of a lawyer friend that also received attention. An ethics complaint on it was dismissed. She remains subject of an ethics complaint also filed against Baker and Hart for the handling of the same-sex marriage case by the Supreme Court.
Our sources have said Goodson wrote a majority opinion affirming Chris Piazza on marriage equality last year, but didn’t release it by Jan. 1, when court membership changed. Ultimately, sources say, she wound up in a majority on an opinion overturning Piazza, but that opinion also was never released. Instead, the Supreme Court dismissed the case without ruling following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Hannah and Associate Justice Paul Danielson, also retiring next year, wrote an opinion that accused the justices of joining to delay the case in a judicial tangent designed to let new Justice Rhonda Wood hear the marriage case rather than a special justice appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe. That allegation forms the basis of the complaint under investigation by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. It may be a stretch to find misconduct in the delays in the case, but not to find inexcusable, politically motivated maneuvering that denied justice, with Goodson a ringleader.
Said Goodson on Facebook early this morning:
Today I’m announcing my campaign for Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. I believe the Arkansas Supreme Court must always be a place where the Constitution is upheld, the rule of law carries the day, and the people are in charge. I will work every day to earn this victory and earn the trust of the people of this state.
“I’ve never been the favorite of the establishment crowd, Goodson says in a video clip. She’s working for the people. Aren’t they all? The question is: Which people? She has a website.
Circuit Judge Shawn Womack of Mountain Home, a former Republican senator, is so far the only candidate for Danielson’s seat.