This just in from Jessie Turnure at KARK/Fox 16:

Pulaski County circuit judge calls @CourtneyforAR attack ads obscene and misleading, rules TV stations must stop running them until after Tuesday’s election. 

This complicates an already messy legal picture over the huge ad buys by a dark money group aimed at defeating Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson’s re-election in favor of the partisan Republican candidate David Sterling. It is also attacking another opponent, Kenneth Hixson, who has not sued but also decried the ads.


Update: Later Friday evening a judge ruled in a case in Washington County that Northwest Arkansas TV stations could air the ads.

Circuit Judge Doug Martin enjoined airing of the ads on Northwest Arkansas stations earlier, but then recused from the case after complaints that his wife had been an employee of Goodson’s husband, John, who has a law firm and lobbying company. But he left the injunction in place and Judge Mackie Pierce has been appointed to take over the case and a request that the injunction be lifted. The ACLU and legal scholars had assailed the injunction as prior restraint and an affront to the 1st Amendment.


Judge Chris Piazza heard the Pulaski County lawsuit by Goodson, aimed at ads broadcast on Little Rock TV stations. He has no known financial connections to Goodson. His wife is a lawyer with the Trammell Piazza firm.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a shadowy outfit linked to major corporate and Republican donors, is trying to reshape courts across the country with candidates of its liking. It spent more than all the candidates combined to defeat Goodson in her race for chief justice against winner Dan Kemp. It spent more than  $500,000 in 2016.  It has booked about $1.2 million in ads this year to defeat Goodson and a Republican dark money group has kicked in another $200,000 to promote Sterling, who essentially campaigns as a Republican (and “Christian” and “NRA member”) for what is technically a non-partisan office.


Sterling has disclaimed connection with the ads, but has not repudiated them. They falsely describe Goodson as having pushed for a big salary increase and also replay elements of 2016 advertising about gifts she’d received from her future husband, including a trip on a yacht owned by his friend, a prominent Northwest Arkansas lawyer.

I’d expect a speedy appeal of this order from news media enjoined from running the ads. The Crisis Network issued this statement:

Statement from Judicial Crisis Network’s Chief Counsel and Policy Director Carrie Severino:

“This is censorship, plain and simple; a blatant attack on free speech. Everything in our ad is true, relevant and documented, and the people of Arkansas have a right to be fully informed about
their judges.”

On the other hand, Jessie Turner oif KARK/Fox 16 quotes Goodson:

“This is our opportunity to step forward and say, ‘Our courts are not for sale, and we will have fair elections in this state.'”

Update: later, however, Judge Mackie Pierce said the ads could air and lifted Martin’s injunction. Pending further developments some TV stations may air the ads and some may not. His order covers Fort Smith and Fayetteville stations.