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story.lead_photo.caption Courtney Goodson is shown in this file photo.

Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson survived a barrage of attack ads to defeat challenger David Sterling in Tuesday's election.

Goodson was re-elected to a second eight-year term.

Speaking from her home in Fayetteville, Goodson said, "I'm absolutely thrilled by the results that I've seen."

"The people of Arkansas have rejected the lies and dark money that special interests have brought into the state," the justice said.

With 2,342 of 2,607 precincts reporting, the unofficial returns were:

Goodson 447,294

Sterling 356,110

Sterling, who had denied association with the groups bad-mouthing Goodson through TV, radio and mail ads, said he called the justice to concede around 9:40 p.m.

"She overcame quite a bit with what she's been through on this campaign," Sterling said. "She won."

The election Tuesday was a runoff from the first round of voting in the nonpartisan judicial general election in May. In that contest, Goodson and Sterling finished ahead of Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson of Fayetteville.

Goodson's first re-election bid was also her third campaign for the state's highest court.

First elected as a judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals in 2008, Goodson -- then known as Courtney Henry -- served in that position for less than a year before announcing plans to run for an open seat on the Supreme Court. With the backing of both prominent Republicans and Democrats -- including former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt -- Goodson won her race for the Position 3 spot on the court in 2010.

Soon after the election, Goodson and her first husband divorced. The next year, she married Texarkana attorney John Goodson, who had been a top donor to her campaign. While the couple was dating, John Goodson gave her gifts with an estimated value of about $99,000, as the justice would later report on public financial disclosure forms. The couple also went on vacation to Italy in 2012, which included a $50,000 yacht trip paid for by friend and Fayetteville attorney W.H. Taylor.


Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson and David Sterling

Both the gifts and the yacht trip would become major issues in Goodson's two subsequent campaigns.

In 2015, Goodson announced that she would run for chief justice after the retirement of Jim Hannah. In that race, Goodson faced Circuit Judge Dan Kemp of Mountain View, who benefited from more than $600,000 spent on ads by out-of-state groups targeting Goodson for the yacht trip and associations with trial attorneys, including her husband.

Goodson lost the chief justice race in 2016.

Sterling first became known to the state's voters during an unsuccessful run in the Republican primary for attorney general in 2014. The next year, he was hired to lead the legal division of the Department of Human Services under Gov. Asa Hutchinson's administration.

Touting conservative bonafides such as membership in the Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association, Sterling has nonetheless downplayed his partisan ties in the nonpartisan race.

Still, the Republican Party headquarters in Little Rock carried a stack of Sterling lawn signs during the campaign, and a recent supportive ad by an outside group compared him to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and President Donald Trump. Sterling's watch party on Tuesday night was held at the same Little Rock hotel as several Republican candidates.

[2018 ELECTION: Full Democrat-Gazette coverage of Arkansas races]

After announcing plans to run for re-election earlier this year, Goodson was again targeted by ads run by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Goodson fought back, filing lawsuits against several Arkansas TV stations that ran the ads ahead of the judicial general election in May. The lawsuits were partially successful: a judge agreed to halt the ads in central Arkansas, while another judge allowed them to continue in Northwest Arkansas.

The Judicial Crisis Network stayed out of the runoff between Goodson and Sterling, but another Washington group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, began running ads with almost the exact same messaging about Goodson's ties to trial attorneys and her "lavish" lifestyle.

Goodson sued again, this time against the purchaser of the ads, the Republican State Leadership Committee. She also took aim at Sterling, coining #DarkMoneyDavid on Twitter, in reference to the fact that the Judicial Crisis Network does not disclose its donors. (The Republican State Leadership Committee does make such disclosures.)

A federal judge declined to issue an injunction against the committee's ads last week, saying that doing so would be censorship. The ads continued to run up to Election Day.

A Section on 11/07/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson keeps post

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