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Group spends $1.1M against Arkansas Supreme Court justice

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Washington-based group says it’s spent $1.1 million so far this fall on mailers and TV ads in the race to oust a Supreme Court justice in Arkansas, including a new spot similar to one by another group that a state judge temporarily blocked from airing earlier this year.

The Republican State Leadership Committee’s Judicial Fairness Initiative this week began airing television ads criticizing Justice Courtney Goodson over campaign contributions and gifts from trial attorneys. Goodson is running against David Sterling, an attorney for the Department of Human Services in next month’s election.

“Reject scandal. Reject Courtney Goodson,” the group’s 15-second spot says.

RSLC has also been running 15-second and 30-second ads promoting Sterling as someone who “shares President Trump and Gov. (Asa) Hutchinson’s conservative agenda.” A spokesman for the group said the $1.1 million is in addition to nearly $745,000 RSLC spent ahead of the May 22 judicial election between Goodson, Sterling and state Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson. Next month’s election is a runoff between Goodson and Sterling.

A state judge in May ordered several Arkansas television stations to temporarily stop running an ad by another group, the Judicial Crisis Network, that also criticized Goodson over donors’ gifts. Both ads cite a $50,000 trip to Italy Goodson received in 2012 from W.H. Taylor, an attorney and friend of her husband’s. Goodson has recused herself from any cases involving her husband, Taylor or Tyson Foods Inc., a company Taylor has represented.

The ruling blocking the ad was criticized by First Amendment advocates as an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. One of the TV stations has appealed the judge’s order, which prevented the ads running through the state’s May 22 judicial election.

Goodson criticized the latest ad and Sterling for not denouncing the group’s involvement in the race. Goodson has called the outside group spending an attack on the judiciary’s independence.

“That makes me wonder how a man who’s afraid to stand up to dark money can stand up for the people of Arkansas when it counts,” Goodson said.

Sterling said he’s had nothing to do with the outside involvement and said he’s focused on his own campaign.

“I don’t think voters should be distracted by this little sideshow that’s going on, this dispute between my opponent and these third-party groups she picked a fight with,” Sterling said.

Judicial Crisis Network, which doesn’t disclose its donors, hasn’t run any ads in the race since the spring. RSLC, which launched its initiative focused on state court races in 2014, has been supported in the past financially by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tobacco company Reynolds America, Bentonville-based Wal-Mart Stores and other major corporations.

Supreme Court campaigns in Arkansas and several other states have become increasingly negative and partisan, with outside groups spending big to reshape state courts that will decide cases on redistricting, voting rights and other issues. RSLC is also running ads supporting a congressman and former state House speaker running for a pair of state Supreme Court seats in West Virginia. Four justices in the state were impeached by the Republican-led House following questions about costly renovations that evolved into accusations of corruption, incompetence and neglect of duty.

In North Carolina, a Republican state Supreme Court justice seeking re-election is running an ad warning about “out of control liberal judges allowing sanctuary cities” for immigrants in the country illegally.

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This version of the story corrects the date of the trip to Italy to 2012.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.



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