The Arkansas Supreme Court race between Judge Robin Wynne and Tim Cullen, already stinking to high heaven because of a huge stealth expenditure by an out-of-state organization against Cullen, added a funny wrinkle today. It came in the form of gibes by both candidates that could apply to sitting Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson. It’s as good a time as any to report belatedly on her clearance by a judicial ethics panel for taking high-dollar trips from a Fayetteville lawyer.
Wynne, who sits on the court of appeals, and Cullen, who primarily practices appellate law, are running for retiring Justice Donald Corbin’s seat. The race got more interesting last week with news that a Virginia-based 501c4,, had made a huge TV ad buy (now up to $400,000 Cullen estimates) to trash Cullen. He once represented a child porn offender on appeal. That’s enough in the eyes of the stealth PAC to make Cullen soft on child porn. Presumably if he’d ever defended a capital defendant they describe him as soft on murderers. The problem with LEAA is that it wont’ identify its leaders, its spokesmen, its source of money or what their true agenda might be. They’ve used soft-on-crime themes in secretive attacks around the country on judicial candidates, generally to help business lobby candidates. The group, for example, has been identified as a contributor in defeat of a West Virginia justice that a coal company wanted off a major coal case.
Back to Arkansas. This morning, the Democrat-Gazette did an article on the race. It mentioned toward the end the outside money, but, before that, said that Cullen cited one reason for running was to restore integrity in public office.
“I’m running because I think there are too many examples of our public elected officials behaving badly and I think it’s crucial, particularly for the supreme court, to be above reproach,” Cullen said.
Cullen said he favored more limits on gifts to judges and said he wouldn’t take any. Gifts of “significant monetary value” can raise questions about impartiality, he said. The article then noted that Justice Goodson reported receiving a trip to Italy in 2012 worth 2012 from W.H. Taylor, a Fayetteville lawyer. Taylor paid for a $12,000 Caribbean cruise for her in 2011. She reported no gifts in 2013 and has defended the trips as coming from a longtime friend.
Wynne also told the D-G he didn’t think judges should take gifts and he’d refuse them.
“I think that that creates a sort of appearance of impropriety and I don’t think that that’s a good idea,” Wynne said.
PS — Goodson’s former husband is working for Cullen. W. H. Taylor and Tyson Foods have given money to Wynne.
It happens that I discovered recently that the state Judiciai Discipline and Disability Commission had received a complaint about the gifts Goodson reported, including some lavish presents from her then-future husband, lawyer John Goodson, as well as a meeting she arranged with Justice Antonin Scalia on a Washington trip and appointment of a friend to a commission. The Judicial Commission issued a detailed ruling last September that found no fault with the judge. Because of publicity about the case, the commission took the rare step of elaborating more than it customarily might in dismissing a complaint.
The letter noted that the gifts had been disclosed, that Taylor was a long-time friend of Goodson, that the judge recused from Goodson and Taylor cases and that the judge also recused from Tyson Foods cases. A Tyson yacht was used on the Italy trip. The letter concluded, “the investigation initiated by this complaint did not reveal or find any evidence of judicial misconduct, wrongdoing or incapacity within the Commission’s jurisdiction.”
Ill appearances and graspiness are not covered in judicial canons. Cullen and Wynne, even if under duress from Cullen, have better ideas.
But back to the big point: Wynne has not said enough to distance himself from the smelly money and, particularly, the suggesting in ads directly helping him that he essentially subscribes to the view that criminal defendants deserve what they get and that a defense attorney who does his job is “soft on crime.”