Associate Justice Courtney Goodson has filed a defamation lawsuit seeking an end to local broadcasts of TV ads funded by the Judicial Crisis Network, a D.C.-based “dark money” group backing one of Goodson’s opponents in a race for her seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Goodson’s suit seeks a temporary restraining order against KATV and the parent companies of several other local stations in Arkansas, including Nexstar Broadcasting, Mission Broadcasting and Comcast of Arkansas. The real target, though, is the JCN, which is attempting to replace Goodson with challenger David Sterling, an attorney for the state Department of Human Services.
The JCN’s mission is to elect conservative judges across the country. As a 501c4 nonprofit, the group does not have to disclose its donors — therefore the “dark money” label — and it skirts campaign finance rules through the use of so-called “issue ads.” In recent weeks, the group has bought over a million dollars worth of TV spots smearing Goodson and Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson — who is also running for the seat — in advance of nonpartisan judicial elections on May 22. (Early voting began May 7.)
Its attacks on Hixson have been especially ugly. Sterling, who is clearly intended to benefit from the JCN’s big spending, has claimed he has no connection to the group.
Goodson’s suit, filed in Pulaski County circuit court on Monday, calls the JCN’s advertising “false, misleading, and defamatory.” Among other things, the complaint objects to the group’s claim that Goodson requested a pay raise for herself. “It is undisputed that Chief Justice Kemp appeared on behalf of the entire Arkansas Supreme Court to the
In 2016, the JCN attacked Goodson in her race for the Supreme Court’s open chief justice seat; the group spent over $1 million in that race, too, and got results. Goodson lost to Kemp, then a circuit judge from Mountain View. The thing about flooding the airwaves with misleading attack ads is that it works.
In attempting to show Goodson will suffer irreparable harm if the court does not act, her lawsuit makes that very point:
This is the fourth election where dark money from JCN has been used to influence Arkansas elections. ln the three prior elections the candidates supported by dark money won each and every time: Justice Wynne, Justice Womack, and Chief Justice Kemp.
ln her 2010 bid for Associate Justice, Justice Goodson defeated her
opponent by earning 57.51 percent of the vote. There was no dark money present in that race.
ln 2016, similar JCN dark money ads were run against Justice Goodson in her bid for Chief Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court. She was defeated with her opponent garnering 57.75 percent of the vote. while all candidates in those races were qualified, there can be no doubt that the presence of false and misleading judicial advertising being run by the Defendants have caused and are causing irreparable harm to both the Plaintiffs and the independence of the judiciary as a whole.