FAYETTEVILLE -- 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 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.
No hearing was set in the case as of Thursday afternoon, although the defendants are asking for one as soon as possible. Goodson is in the middle of a re-election campaign.
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 run the ads, 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," Zimmerman says in a letter to the Administrative Office of the Courts. "Judge Bryan has already recused," referring to Circuit Judge Beth Bryan.
The letter asks Kemp to appoint a special judge.
Goodson's campaign filed suit in both Washington and Pulaski counties Monday to stop the ads, which she claims are false. 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.
After Martin issued a temporary restraining order to stop the TV ads, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Martin's wife, Amy, received income in 2017 through her 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.
Martin left his restraining order in place in his recusal order. 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 Wednesday night with Zimmerman 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 a justice to the Arkansas Supreme Court against Kenneth Hixson and David Sterling.
Martin's recusal came less than a full day before a hearing to lift the order was scheduled in his court, attorneys John Tull and Chris Keller for Tribune Broadcasting said in their motion. Martin issued the restraining order Monday with no hearing first.
By entering a temporary restraining order without hearing from the opposing side, "entering an eleventh-hour, indefinite continuance of the only scheduled hearing on the order and recusing from the case, the court has completely banned campaign speech without notice and without providing Tribune, the other media defendants or anyone interested in free speech with any avenue to be heard in court," the defendant's motion says. "This case is an affront to not only the First Amendment but due process."
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 before Goodson's suit was filed.
The Judicial Crisis Network also has targeted one of Goodson's opponents, Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson. The other candidate in the race, Department of Human Services attorney David Sterling, has denied any coordination with outside groups running ads against his opponents.
Metro on 05/18/2018
Print Headline: Judge appointed for ads suit; Pulaski County’s Pierce to hear justice’s case after recusals