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UPDATE: Special judge named in Goodson ad lawsuit after local judges recuse

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UPDATE 4:35p.m.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce of Little Rock will preside over a lawsuit filed in Washington County by Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson seeking to ban negative campaign ads.

Chief Justice John Dan Kemp of the Arkansas Supreme Court appointed Pierce on Thursday. The appointment came after every circuit judge in Washington County recused Wednesday night from Goodson’s lawsuit, according to a letter to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

ORIGINAL STORY:

FAYETTEVILLE — Every circuit judge in Washington County recused Wednesday night from the lawsuit filed by state Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson to block negative campaign ads, according to a letter to the state Administrative Office of the Courts.

Washington County Circuit Judge Stacey Zimmerman received notice Wednesday that Circuit Judge Doug Martin had recused in the case, her letter to the administrative office says. She also heard from attorneys of those seeking to overturn the ban, the letter says.

“I then contacted the other circuit judges in our district, and the remaining five of us disqualified ourselves from hearing the case,” the letter says. “Judge Bryan has already recused,” referring to Circuit Judge Beth Bryan.

“I am requesting that Chief Justice Kemp assign a special judge to hear the above-referenced case,” Zimmerman’s letter says, referring to state Supreme Court Chief Justice John Dan Kemp.

Martin left his restraining order in place in his recusal order against several area TV stations standing. Martin ordered the stations to pull negative ads about Goodson after the lawsuit was filed Monday. Attorneys for the companies affected argued in a motion filed with Zimmerman on Wednesday night that Martin’s recusal leaves an unconstitutional order in place at the height of the campaign season for nonpartisan judicial elections, which are Tuesday. Early voting began May 7.

Goodson is running for re-election as an associate justice to the Arkansas Supreme Court against Kenneth Hixson and David Sterling.

The motion for the communications companies asks that a special judge be appointed as soon as possible and for that appointee to lift the ban as soon as the appointment is made, according to a copy of the motion provided by the Washington County Circuit Clerk’s office this morning.

After Martin issued a temporary restraining order to stop the TV ads, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Martin received income in 2017 through his wife’s legal work with Keil & Goodson, the Texarkana firm of John Goodson, Courtney Goodson’s husband.

Amy Martin was also a one-time contributor to Goodson’s campaign. W.H. Taylor, an attorney whose gifts to Goodson were scrutinized in one of the attack ads, also donated to Doug Martin’s campaign in 2014.

Goodson’s attorneys asked Martin to recuse in a court motion after the newspaper report.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas released a statement Wednesday calling for groups such as the sponsors of the anti-Goodson ads, the Judicial Crisis Network, to be forced to disclose their donors, but it said the group’s speech should still be protected under the U.S. Constitution.

“It’s well understood that you can’t get this kind of injunction without, as I understand, any real hearing,” said Eugene Volokh, a professor of First Amendment law at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law. He called Martin’s ruling “clearly unconstitutional.”

The Judicial Crisis Network issued a statement Wednesday calling Martin’s order a censorship of the group’s First Amendment right to free speech. The conservative-leaning group is based in Washington, D.C., and has spent hundred of thousands of dollars in ads during this year’s Arkansas Supreme Court race, as well as other recent Arkansas campaigns.

The group’s recent ads focused on expensive gifts Goodson received from lawyers with business before the Supreme Court — Goodson says she has recused in all cases involving gift givers — and a pay raise sought by the Supreme Court last year, which the ads depict as being requested solely by Goodson.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” the group’s policy director, Carrie Severino, said in a statement. “Judge Martin should be standing up for free speech instead of trying to protect his campaign donor and buddies.”

Lauren Hoover, Goodson’s attorney, said she was happy with Martin’s recusal because it would allow the case to continue. She noted one cable provider in Northwest Arkansas, Cox Media, had already agreed to pull the ads prior to Goodson’s suit being filed.


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