Race for Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice sees influx of dark money on eve of election


Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson has been publicly lambasted for accepting money and gifts from her husband and for receiving campaign donations from lawyers, especially since she announced her candidacy for Chief Justice.

But Courtney Goodson publicly disclosed all of this without prompting while her opponent, Circuit Judge Dan Kemp of Mountain View, has seen hundreds of thousands in so-called “dark money” poured into negative ads by Judicial Crisis Network, a group that funnels support from donors whose identities are kept secret.

“He’s supported by dark money secret interests. I’m supported by the NRA,” Courtney Goodson said in an email. “What’s so hypocritical about these ads is that I’m being attacked for accepting gifts – which I publicly disclosed – while Mr. Kemp has accepted a $500,000 dollar gift in the form of shameful ads paid for by an obscure group of Washington insiders who don’t have to disclose their donors. Every single one of my supporters has been disclosed on my ethics reports for any Arkansan to see, but my opponent’s supporters are hiding.”

The JCN is spending big money to cast Courtney Goodson as a judge who caters to wealthy lawyers, pointing to the gifts she willingly disclosed to the public, including gifts from her husband, Texarkana lawyer John Goodson. Ironically, the ads benefitting Kemp are being paid for with money coming from unknown contributors.

“My campaign had no prior knowledge of the Judicial Crisis Network’s interest in this election,” a recently circulated email states. “My personal belief is that any money contributed to influence the outcome of an election should be done in the spirit of transparency…Importantly, the JCN raises what I see as legitimate questions about Ms. Goodson’s publicly disclosed acceptance of lavish gifts, which I hope to stop if elected Chief Justice.”

Courtney Goodson said Kemp should ask JCN to cease involvement in the campaign if he really means what he says.

“There are only two people running in this race. One of us working for the special interests that want to take away our right to vote and hold judges accountable,” Courtney Goodson said. “I on the other hand am working for the people of Arkansas. (The JCN) would not be here if he would refuse their help. He should not accept the benefit of over half a million dollars if he doesn’t believe in it.”

Courtney Goodson openly reported a trip she and her husband took compliments of a lawyer friend who represents Tyson Foods, as well as gifts from her husband she received before they wed. The state’s Judicial Ethics Commission found she did nothing wrong. Courtney Goodson recuses herself from cases in which her husband, any of his associates, or Tyson has an interest.

Courtney Goodson said she wishes the voters weren’t being barraged with negative ads and distorted truths so they can focus on the real issue of who is the better candidate.

Courtney Goodson, a native of Harrison, Ark., began serving as an associate justice on the Supreme Court in 2010 and served the two years prior on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. She earned an undergraduate degree from University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1994, graduating magna cum laude. Goodson graduated with high honors from UA School of Law in 1997.

“I’m the only candidate in this race that has heard an appeal. The only judge who has written an appellate decision. The only judge who has heard a death penalty appeal. The only justice who has decided a constitutional question. The only Justice who has worked with all six other justices and worked together to decide difficult cases,” Courtney Goodson said. “I appreciate that judge Kemp has a lot of experience, it’s just not the right experience for this particular job.”

Kemp has served as an elected Circuit Judge since 1986 and was a municipal judge for nine years prior. Kemp serves as a drug court judge and is a graduate of University of Arkansas School of Law.

“I have always believed that politics should not be involved in court,” a statement from Kemp on his Website states. “When you walk through the doors of a courtroom, and especially in the Supreme Court, you should not have to worry that politics will influence decisions.”

The two candidates appear to agree on that. Courtney Goodson said she has been transparent when reporting gifts and campaign donations that might be perceived as affecting her impartiality while Kemp is being boosted by dark money from secret donors with unknown agendas.

“I believe in one set of rules. One Constitution. One justice for every Arkansan – whether it’s the wealthiest person in our state, the Chief Justice, the Governor, or a farm hand,” Courtney Goodson said. “When your case comes through that door you need to know for certain that the deck is not rigged. That the Chief Justice keeps her word. That her word means something.”

Early voting in Arkansas begins Tuesday. The primary is March 1.

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