On Monday afternoon, Washington County Circuit Judge Doug Martin issued a temporary restraining order stopping some broadcast TV stations from airing a recent spate of ads that attack Associate Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson. The ads are from an out-of-state, “dark money” group called the Judicial Crisis Network.

Goodson requested the order in a defamation complaint filed in Washington County yesterday. She simultaneously filed a similar suit in Pulaski County, but Circuit Judge Chris Piazza did not immediately halt the ads. A hearing in Piazza’s court is set for Friday morning. Martin set a hearing for the Washington County case on Thursday at 9 a.m.


Goodson is running for re-election in the May 22 nonpartisan judicial election (early voting began on May 7) and faces two challengers, Court of Appeals Judge Kenneth Hixson and David Sterling, a lawyer with the Arkansas Department of Human Services. The Judicial Crisis Network, a D.C.-based political nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, has interposed itself in the race, buying attack ads that claim Goodson has advocated for a pay raise for herself and has acted unethically as a justice. Goodson says those allegations are false and defamatory. The JCN is also airing ads that attack Hixson.

The group, which advocates for the election of conservative jurists, has spent over a million dollars this cycle to benefit Sterling. (However, because it technically has no connection to the Sterling campaign, the advertising is not counted in campaign finance filings.) The JCN has spent big in other Arkansas Supreme Court races in recent years, too. In 2016, it attacked Goodson in her race for the Supreme Court’s open chief justice seat, which she lost to circuit judge Dan Kemp.


Martin’s order cites an independent nonprofit called the Arkansas Judicial Campaign Conduct and Education Committee, which examined the JCN ads on Goodson and determined that they were false. The committee’s rapid response team sent a cease and desist letter to the JCN last week, yet TV stations keep airing the JCN’s ads.

“Despite being notified, Defendants are actively republishing this defamatory material and hold the FCC licenses for the media market. JCN advertising are false and continued publication of such ads demonstrate the Defendants’ reckless disregard for whether the ad is true or false. All of which constitutes actual malice on the part of the Defendants,” Martin wrote.


The suit in Martin’s court names as defendants Tribune Broadcasting Fort Smith, Cox Media and Nextar Broadcasting. The suit in Pulaski County names Nextar and Cox, as well as KATV, Mission Broadcasting, Tegna and Comcast of Arkansas.