The nonpartisan Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee was formed in 2016 to offer information about judicial elections and provide a balance to the big-dollar negative advertising from dark money and outside groups. They’ve had plenty to keep them busy. As we reported yesterday, the group’s rapid response team sent a letter to Judicial Crisis Network, a right-wing advocacy group based in D.C., stating that its attacks on Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson were “false and misleading.”

The group gave JCN 24 hours to respond, but extravagantly funded dark money groups in D.C. don’t care what campaign ethics watchdogs in Arkansas say, and the slimy ads roll on. Today, AJCCEC sent a “cease and desist” letter, demanding that the misleading ads be taken down. JCN will no doubt ignore this letter as well, but the idea here is to put some sunlight on the sleazy tactics that prefer to operate in the dark, and hopefully give the public a chance to evaluate the validity of big-money ads that wildly stretch the truth. I dunno, maybe judicial elections are a bad idea. 

JCN is is pouring more than $1 million in advertising to attack Goodson. Goodson is running for re-election against David Sterling — an attorney for the Department of Human Services who appears to be backed by JCN — and State Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson. Goodson and Hixson have slammed the ads as slimy; Sterling claims he knows nothing about them. JCN also backed Sterling in 2014 in his Republican primary race for attorney general. Sterling is also supported this time in the supposedly non-partisan race by another outside group spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Republican State Leadership Committee. Dark Money David once again says his hands are clean. The shadow campaign on his behalf, funded by right-wing heavy hitters from D.C., could well spend more than all of the actual candidates combined.

According to its website, the mission of the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee “is to foster education for the voting public in judicial races by (1) displaying information about judicial candidates on a website; (2) establishing a response team to respond to false advertisements and attacks; and (3) providing a voluntary pledge that the candidate will disavow all false communications in the candidate’s favor.” Its board is a who’s who of prominent names from the state’s legal world.

The group’s rapid response team, which received a complaint about the ads from Goodson and sent the letters to JCN, is chaired by retired federal judge Audrey Evans.

Here’s the full press release from the group:

Judicial watch group finds campaign materials false, misleading

A nonpartisan group that monitors appellate court elections in Arkansas has issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Judicial Crisis Network, an organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C., because of what the team contends is false and misleading advertising that targets state Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson in her bid for re-election.

The Rapid Response Team of the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct & Election Committee Inc., acting on a complaint from the Goodson campaign organization, conducted an investigation into allegations in a mail flyer and a television commercial, both paid for by the Judicial Crisis Network.

Goodson is seeking re-election to a second 8-year term as position 3 justice on the state’s highest court. She has two opponents, state Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson and attorney David Sterling, chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Both have denied responsibility for the Judicial Crisis Network’s advertising and campaign materials, which do not name them.

In 2016 Goodson ran for chief justice but lost to Circuit Judge John Dan Kemp. The Judicial Crisis Network also sponsored campaign materials opposing her then.

The organization shows on its Web site (www.judicialnetwork.com) that its headquarters are at 1455 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 400, Washington D.C. 20004.

The RRT first issued a 4-page letter to the Judicial Crisis Network on Wednesday, giving the Judicial Crisis Network 24 hours to respond. That letter outlined the complaint, provided a summary of the evidence provided by the Goodson campaign to show the allegations are false and misleading, and gave the organization 24 hours to provide evidence supporting its claims.

The complaint specified that the Judicial Crisis Network was sponsoring television advertisements which state that “Courtney Goodson has been taking gifts and big money from donors for years … hundreds of thousands of dollars from law firms with cases before her court … even a $50,000 trip to Italy on a donor’s luxury yacht and also had asked for an $18,000 raise making her salary bigger than the governor’s.”

The organization mailed a full-color flyer alleging that a trial lawyer paid for an extended luxury vacation to Italy Goodson and her husband, including a cruise on a yacht owned by one of her corporate campaign contributors, and then asked Arkansas taxpayers for an additional $18,000 pay raise.

The RRT found substantial evidence refuting those allegations, and the Judicial Crisis Network did not respond to its letter, headed “Request for Voluntary Withdrawal of Advertisement.”

A “Cease-and-Desist Letter” was then issued on Thursday, confirming the team’s findings and demanding that the Judicial Crisis Network immediately withdraw its false and misleading advertising.

The RRT made the following findings:

• “Justice Goodson did not request a pay raise. There is no evidence to support the statement that she did request a pay raise. Justice Goodson sat on the Supreme Court during the time the court voted to authorize Chief Justice Kemp to request a pay raise. The Supreme Court speaks with one voice — that of its chief. It would be a violation of Justice Goodson’s duty of confidentiality to reveal how she voted for a pay raise.”

• “Justice Goodson did not hear cases that were filed by or on behalf of a donor. Because[ she] recused from hearing those cases, donors did not receive benefits from [her].

The letter also urged the JCN to remove all such claims from any other campaign material, including a Web site, www.greedygoodson.com, which has the same false and misleading allegations.

Copies of both letters were sent to the campaign organizations of all three position 3 candidates, as well as to the Judicial Crisis Network.

The Rapid Response Team is comprised of retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Audrey Evans, attorneys Danyelle Walker and Elizabeth Andreoli, all of Little Rock; Dr. Hal Bass, professor emeritus of political science at Ouachita Baptist University; and journalist Roy Ockert of Jonesboro.