An opaque money group apparently succeeded in Wisconsin where it failed in Arkansas — influencing election of a Supreme Court judge. The article inspired my check today on the Arkansas judge’s ongoing divorce case and it turns out to have heated up considerably, with big money again an issue.

Think Progress chronicles the last-minute orgy of spending by the Republican State Leadership Committee in favor of the election of arch-conservative Brian Hagedorn to a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It was a tragedy in a state trying to reclaim its progressive roots. He’s particularly offensive as a person who’s compared homosexuality to bestiality and served on the board of school that banned LGBT teachers and students.

The RSLC spent more than $2.6 million trying unsuccessfully to elect arch-conservative David Sterling (attorney for Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s woebegone Department of Human Service) over Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson.  It also dipped into local politics behind a Walton-backed candidate for Bentonville mayor.

The RSLC resents being called a dark money operation. It files no specific accounting at the state level, but it is a PAC and it does file IRS statements on contributors. It raises huge sums and it’s impossible to tell with certainty which contributors might influence decisions to get into a particular race. It came in late with $1.3 million helping Hagedorn, comparing him favorablly with Beer-chugging Bart O’Kavanaugh of US. Supreme Court fame.

Advertisement

Think Progresss lists some of the big contributors to the RSLC

$780,000 from Altria Group, the tobacco company that makes Marlboro cigarettes and owns Ste. Michelle Wine Estates.

$534,315 from Reynolds American, the tobacco company that makes Newport and Camel cigarettes.

$475,550 from BNSF Railway, one of North America’s largest freight railroad companies.

$373,147 from GCI Communications, an Alaska-based telecommunications provider.

$350,000 from Pepperidge LLC, a West Virginia real estate leasing company.

$350,000 from Contract Drafting LLC, a Wyoming-based company.

$250,000 from Anthem Inc., a for-profit health insurance company in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield network.

$230,199 from Centene Management Company, a managed care health services company.

$225,399 from AstraZeneca PLC, the pharmaceutical company whose products include Symbicort, Nexium, and Crestor.

$210,335 from Marathon Petroleum, a large fossil fuel company.

$206,028 from Eli Lilly and Company, the pharmaceutical company.

$203,765 from Koch Industries, Charles and David Koch’s petrochemical behemoth.

Altria told Think Progress it specifically told RSLC it didn’t want its money used in judicial races.

Individual contributors to RSLC included $1 million from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson ad his wife and $500,000 from hedge funder Paul Singer.

The payoff in Wisconsin was a conservative-controlled Supreme Court.

In Arkansas, the Supreme Court is increasingly a captive of special interests — the Republican Party and nursing homes particularly — but the turnover is not complete.

And now the divorce case

Goodson was elected to the court originally with help from the business lobby but angered them with a decision in a tort case. She later suffered from the appearance of her marriage to wealthy class action lawyer John Goodson of Texarkana, chair of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees. They are going through a divorce now in Miller County. And a review of filings in that case show it’s gotten contentious, with big money a key issue.

Advertisement

Justice Goodson’s attorney, Lisa Ballard, in answering John Goodson’s original divorce complaint and asking for decree by cross-complaint said:

There are marital debts to be settled or adjudicated by the Court.

Defendant is entitled to and in need of, temporary and permanent spousal support which Plaintiff has the ability to pay.

Defendant is entitled to and requests an unequal division of property.

Plaintiff should be ordered to pay the attorney’s fees and costs of the Defendant and to immediately provide Defendant with suit monies (including, but not limited to, attorney’s fees, costs, and expert witness fees for valuation and accounting).

Arkansas Supreme Court justices are paid about $170,000 a year.

John Goodson’s lawyer, Matt Keil, has resisted this request. He and Ballard have also been arguing over an accounting sought by Keil for a $25,000 check sent to the justice, which Keil argues was marital property. It apparently was insurance payment for loss of a vehicle that John Goodson was said by Ballard to have been bought as a gift for his wife. Ballard wrote:

Plaintiff is a licensed attorney and by his representations to the Defendant and the public, he is an extremely successful attorney engaged in class action litigation across this country and is allegedly worth millions of dollars. Defendant had no idea that Plaintiff intended to file a Complaint for Divorce on January 31, 2019. Defendant, has at all times acted in accord with the practices engaged in during the marriage and has treated the proceeds of the check in question, no differently.

Plaintiff is in control of the vast majority of the marital assets in this matter and to imply to this Court that Plaintiff could be harmed by the disposition of a $25,000 check is disingenuous at best.

Defendant believes this Motion is an effort to publicly embarrass and humiliate the Defendant

Keil has responded by asserting that a variety of property owned by John Goodson was acquired before their marriage and that she had not contributed to cost of those properties. But, countered Ballard:

There is a vast discrepancy between the assets within Plaintiff’s control and those of the Defendant.

Plaintiff is servicing debt and spending resources not related to his marriage to the Defendant on a monthly basis, but is providing no monies to the Defendant for her support. Plaintiff has refused to pay the mortgage, utilities, taxes, and other recurring debts that Plaintiff has always paid during the marriage. Plaintiff is well
aware of Defendant’s income level and that she is unable to keep up with him financially.

In court filings this week, the attorneys also are battling over how much financial information John Goodson must disclose.

Local judges have recused from hearing the case and the  Supreme Court has appointed retired Judge David Laser to hear the case.