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story.lead_photo.caption Justice Courtney Goodson

Faced with a blitz of negative 30-second television spots leading up to next week's Arkansas Supreme Court election, incumbent Justice Courtney Goodson filed suit on Monday against several state TV stations in hopes that a judge would yank the ads off the airwaves.

In Washington County, where one of two suits was filed, Circuit Judge Doug Martin issued a temporary restraining order to halt the ads from airing. The ruling affected Nexstar Broadcasting, which has stations in central Arkansas, and Goodson's attorney said she hoped the company would stop airing ads there, too.

In Pulaski County, where the other suit was filed, Circuit Judge Chris Piazza scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Friday.

Additionally, Little Rock's KATV station suspended the ads from its airwaves pending the hearing, according to copies of an email sent by Goodson's attorney, Lauren Hoover. The station did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.

More than $533,000 worth of ads has already been purchased across Arkansas television markets by the Judicial Crisis Network, the conservative Washington, D.C.-based group that is criticizing both Goodson and one of her two opponents, Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC filings show the stations directly affected by the restraining order have more than $84,000 in advertising contracts running between now and next Tuesday, the day of the nonpartisan judicial general election as well as party primaries. Early voting is already underway across the state.

The ads targeting Goodson rehash attacks the group has previously made against her -- that she received high-priced gifts from trial attorneys -- while also bringing up a new allegation: that she requested an $18,000-a-year pay raise. Goodson's attorneys call the claims "false, misleading and defamatory."

In court papers filed Monday, her attorneys argue that judicial salaries are requested by the court as a whole and that Goodson cannot say whether she supported the idea of asking for a raise. The lawsuit also says that Goodson recused herself from cases involving donors and gift-givers, and thus they did not receive any benefit from her.

Earlier in the campaign, Goodson responded to the ads with direct appeals to voters in videos posted on her social media accounts. In interviews, she has promised to be more forceful in responding to attack ads after losing the chief justice race to Dan Kemp in 2016. Goodson is in the last year of an eight-year term as Position 3 associate justice; chief justice is another position on the seven-justice court.

As was pointed out in Goodson's lawsuit, Kemp was aided in that 2016 race by ads paid for by the Judicial Crisis Network, which does not reveal its donors.

The third candidate in this year's election is David Sterling, the top attorney with the state Department of Human Services. Sterling denies involvement in the effort by the Judicial Crisis Network.

By filing emergency requests for a restraining order in both Washington and Pulaski counties, Goodson sought a judicial order that would immediately put a stop to the ads.

"I am grateful that the court is giving me an opportunity to be heard," Goodson said, despite expressing "disappointment" at not getting an immediate injunction in Little Rock, the state's largest media market. "I understand that the court's docket is full."

The lawsuit in Pulaski County named Little Rock's KATV; Nexstar Broadcasting Inc., the manager of Little Rock's KARK, KASN and KLRT-TV, Northwest Arkansas' KNWA and Fort Smith's KFTA; Mission Broadcasting; and Tegna, which owns KTHV. The suit in Washington County also named Nexstar, as well as Tribune Broadcasting, which operates KFSM and KXNW in Northwest Arkansas.

Comcast of Arkansas Inc. and Cox Media LLC were listed as defendants in both suits.

None of the stations returned requests for comment Monday.

A spokesman for the Judicial Crisis Network declined to comment. The organization emailed a reporter a copy of a letter the group's attorneys sent to two Northwest Arkansas TV stations last week, assuring the stations that threats of legal action were "without merit."

"These assertions are absolutely true, and Justice Goodson's campaign does not claim otherwise," said the letter, signed by attorneys Jason Torchinsky and Michael Bayes.

That letter came in response to a cease-and-desist letter sent by the nonprofit Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee to the Judicial Crisis Network on Thursday. While the nonprofit has no legal authority, Hoover, Goodson's attorney, sent her own cease-and-desist letter threatening possible legal action.

The Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee, chaired by retired U.S. District Judge Audrey Evans, found that the Judicial Crisis Network's ads contained "false or misleading information."

Tougher standards must be met, however, to make the case in court that the Judicial Crisis Network's claims are so fraudulent that people should be blocked from hearing them, an expert said.

"Courts, as a general proposition, are very reluctant to restrain speech in advance," said John DiPippa, the dean of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's William H. Bowen School of Law, and a professor of constitutional law.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public officials must prove "actual malice" in defamation cases. For Goodson to prevail in her defamation claim, DiPippa said, she must not only prove that the claims in the ad are false, but that those airing the ads -- the TV stations -- know that the ads contain false information. After reviewing Goodson's suit, DiPippa said her claims were "not frivolous" and that the TV stations should have some responsibility to review the claims being made in the ads they air.

Goodson said she expected the stations to defend themselves on free-speech grounds.

"I'm a big believer in the First Amendment," Goodson said in a brief phone interview. "But no one has a First Amendment right to lie."

The other target of recent Judicial Crisis Network ads, Hixson, released his own forceful statement Monday condemning "dark money" expenditures. Asked whether his campaign was considering its own legal action, a spokesman said it was not.

"Filing lawsuits against these cowards will only serve to further burden our courts," Hixson said in a statement. "The best way to tell the Judicial Crisis Network to back off of our airwaves is for the people of Arkansas to tell them so on Election Day."

Ads by another Washington group have praised Sterling, who once ran in the Republican primary for attorney general. Sterling has said he has nothing to do with the out-of-state spending, and on Monday he declined to comment on Goodson's lawsuit.

Information for this article was contributed by Hunter Field and John Lynch of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

A Section on 05/15/2018

Print Headline: Justice files suit to block TV ads; Election attacks false, she says

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Comments

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  • malice06220956
    May 15, 2018 at 7:20 a.m.

    Someone is spending a great deal of money to destroy this woman. I even get hit with them on YouTube. Rumor has it her ex husband is pushing this group to smear her. Follow the money.

  • jaywills
    May 15, 2018 at 8:03 a.m.

    Always nice to find a friendly judge:

    reason(dot)com/volokh/2018/05/14/arkansas-judge-issues-temporary-restrain

  • mrcharles
    May 15, 2018 at 8:09 a.m.

    Money money , oh the God of this nation.

    The sinner and the sin, walking side by side. Mere mortals don't stand a chance yet they in their easily manipulated fears are to blame. The Russians, the vandals, the Goths will not destroy us, but huge piles of U S GRANTS!

    LONG LIVE SHELDON ADELSON.

  • hah406
    May 15, 2018 at 8:12 a.m.

    I don't care for Goodson, but these ads by the so called Judicial Crisis Network are outrageous. Especially the one against Hixson. He followed the letter of the law in that ruling. Who would want a judge that would do otherwise?

  • BigA
    May 15, 2018 at 8:13 a.m.

    Wow... a judge wants the media to stop spreading false information... HA!! The media once accused me of killing a man... who turned out to be alive. It was all "false". My son was accused of kidnapping, among other things... again NOT true; My brother accused of growing POT on his very large farm. They ruined his name... he lost his job as a physician... again NOT true. I guess what goes around comes around sooner or later; and prefer seeing the 1st amendment protected by the judge, whose law suite certainly lost my vote. I see where one of the other judges running against her is now getting hit with similar adds. The judge only need deny the accusations and perhaps explain why she is being attacked. There were reasonable explainations for each event I listed above. Every individual has social media at their disposal... the judge should consider using her right to speak against her accusers, rather than do all this whinning.

  • skeptic1
    May 15, 2018 at 8:22 a.m.

    Has no one noticed the sleazy adds her campaign consulting company has been airing against Hixon? How short the memory of the readers here, do you not remember her husband's sweetheart deals she oversaw, the cases she refused to recuse on despite her connections to the parties, and the dark money that put her in office last go around? She is a GOP hack just like all who surround her, her crying foul with her muddy shoe on the other foot now is beyond the pale.

  • WhododueDiligence
    May 15, 2018 at 8:48 a.m.

    malice0622, that rumor seems doubtful. It's more likely that, as usual, someone is spending a great deal of money to get their candidate elected. As usual, wealthy extremists with an extremist national agenda are spending obscene gobs of money in many states to try to elect candidates who share their extremist beliefs and extremist goals. Unfortunately all too often these vicious, fear-and-hate mongering, character-assassination attack ads are successful in achieving big donors' extremist political goals.
    *
    So in every election cycle we continue to see super-wealthy political extremists from other states using extremely dishonest tactics in their extreme desire to get what they want all across the USA. And unfortunately since Citizens United (a sleazily farcical name for a sleazily divisive electioneering organization) it's now harder to follow the money. The same sleazy donors who fund vicious and misleading attack ads are the same sleazy extremists who sleazily lobbied US Supreme Court members before they voted 5-4 in favor of sleazy Citizens (dis)United which makes big gobs of sleazy dark money harder to trace because the sleazy extremist donors would much prefer that We the People don't know who they are.

  • GeneralMac
    May 15, 2018 at 8:52 a.m.

    After reading the ads, Goodson will NOT be getting my vote .

  • Arkie2017
    May 15, 2018 at 9:26 a.m.

    These ads are disgusting. If people believe that crap they are seriously brainwashed. Any outside, special interest group that spends that kind of money on very expensive mailing and back to back TV ads during prime time on all the networks is doing it because she won't side with their special corporate interests with regards to class action lawsuits. One of the cards sent out had an excerpt from this paper that she (heaven forbid) actually sided with the plaintiffs in class actions. That was my 2nd clue that this attack was to be ignored. None of these special interests spend that kind of money to protect the interests of the people, but of themselves and their greedy corporate interests, especially with regards to tort reform. How dare she accept money from trial lawyers and not them, this message says to me. How dare she defy us, we need a "conservative" that shares Arkansas values. Really? What are the values you believe Arkansans have? Certainly not ones that would screw us over because that's the message these people are sending and if people buy into this crap you are telling them you too can be bought for a few pieces of silver. GET THE DAMNED DIRTY MONEY OUT OF OUR ELECTIONS. And btw I voted FOR HER BECAUSE OF YOUR ADS.

  • Packman
    May 15, 2018 at 10:22 a.m.

    If the ads are true what difference does it make if they are funded by "dark money"? If the message is true, it's nonsense to attack the messenger.

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